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May 10, 2012 1:29 PM   Subscribe

"It's the dirty little secret of higher education," says Mr. Williams of the New Faculty Majority. "Many administrators are not aware of the whole extent of the problem. But all it takes is for somebody to run the numbers to see that their faculty is eligible for welfare assistance." posted by Kitty Stardust (590 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surprising, but actually I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.
posted by bquarters at 1:37 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


See also.
posted by synecdoche at 1:38 PM on May 10, 2012


I have an MA, I teach high school and I make, well...

"Even as the number of highly educated aid recipients grows, shame has helped to keep the problem hidden."

Let's say, I'm not comfortable saying how little I make.
posted by jiawen at 1:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.

I don't recall seeing anywhere in the article that they were offered such a job and turned it down, nor that they neglected to look for such a job.

It may not have been the intended plan to teach high school, but it also may not be available.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


In Arizona last year, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state's allocation to Yavapai's operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college's operating budget.

That's just ridiculous.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?

I mean, the more that are employed through state funding, the more History PhDs get produced. Doesn't seem sustainable somehow.
posted by codswallop at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


Higher Education is just full of "dirty little secrets" these days. Congratulations, Colleges, you've become True Corporations!
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


In Arizona last year, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state's allocation to Yavapai's operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college's operating budget.

That's just ridiculous.


Agreed. But this is flat-out scandalous:

Last year, one in six people—almost 50 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population—received food stamps.
posted by clockzero at 1:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm amazed that the notion of an advanced degree as a path to a rewarding career is taking so long to die.
posted by rocket88 at 1:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [45 favorites]


Don't the folks interviewed in the article teach in Arizona or something?

I'm a former teacher and I've changed careers a couple of times now (teacher > non-profit/government > copywriter) in an extremely small job market, and while I guess it would be easy for me to suggest these guys perhaps consider leveraging their skills in a different job market and therefore make more money, I suppose the job market in the States has sucked for, what? Half a decade now? And will likely still suck for another half a decade?

I think you folks in the States are looking at a profound change in your job market.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anyone else find the second paragraph stomach-turning? "... says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. " Yeah, because the stereotypes never reflected reality. They were created for political gain. To be frank, I don't even want to read the rest of the article after that. I assume it's 'adjuncting doesn't pay a living wage'. (I could tell you how much it pays around here--I got a job listing via email this morning, but I can't find it.)
posted by hoyland at 1:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Surprising, but actually I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.

They may not be qualified to teach High School. I am ABD in History and I'm not qualified to teach high school in Canada, not until they change the curriculum from Canadian history since 1800 to European history before 1800 (we do specialise). And I don't have an education degree, nor do I have any aptitude for teaching young people (I'm a fine teacher for non-hormonal adults).

Of course, the people I know who have both education degrees and the drive/aptitude to work with teenagers don't have jobs as teachers, because teaching in Ontario has job prospects like law in the US (too many graduates, not enough positions). Teaching is not a good career option right now.
posted by jb at 1:48 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]




I'm amazed that the notion of an advanced degree as a path to a rewarding career is taking so long to die.
posted by rocket88 at 1:45 PM on May 10 [+] [!]


Why's that?
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once again, there's so much missing from this tale of woe. She's in her 40s, didn't go to a top-tier school in Med. History, a field in which there are very few tenure-track gigs. Did her profs at UC Irvine never mention that she might have a tough time?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


In a way, she's being paid what society currently values her work to be worth. Shitty, and not what her work is actually worth to society but we aren't exactly logic-bound in the 21st century.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm amazed that the notion of an advanced degree as a path to a rewarding career is taking so long to die.

What needs to die is the notion that any old advanced degree is a path to some generic, nebulous world called "a rewarding career," rather than the correct notion that specific careers have specific prerequisites, including, but not limited to, specific advanced degrees, and that someone who wants to have one of those particular careers needs to get on the path to the required degree and other qualifications sooner rather than later.

When people make decisions about their education and career path, they need to do so with an understanding of whether the path they are about to choose is going to get them where they want to go. There seems to be a notion - which I agree needs to die - that if you don't know what you want to do, just get an advanced degree and you'll be OK.

But, although there is a whole world of people without advanced degrees who, nevertheless, have rewarding careers, few, if any, of those people have rewarding careers in fields that require a specific advanced degree.
posted by The World Famous at 1:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [38 favorites]


Ideefixe: "Once again, there's so much missing from this tale of woe. She's in her 40s, didn't go to a top-tier school in Med. History, a field in which there are very few tenure-track gigs. Did her profs at UC Irvine never mention that she might have a tough time?"

You're right. This is clearly her fault. We should blame the woman on food stamps.
posted by schmod at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


UC Irvine is a good history program - and not all people who get tenure-track jobs went to top-tier schools. And not all people who went to a top-tier has a tenure-track job.

I was surprised at the quote for 20 hours (including prep and marking) for two courses; the adjunct I knew did at least 30 hours/week for one course, and he had TAs to help with the grading.
posted by jb at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2012




Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?

I mean, the more that are employed through state funding, the more History PhDs get produced. Doesn't seem sustainable somehow.
posted by codswallop at 1:40 PM on May 10 [2 favorites +] [!]


If that's what was happening, there'd be a problem. It's not. This isn't some arms race to see who can hire the most university professors.

The number of permanent, full time, tenured positions is shrinking. Once lucrative, middle class jobs are being split up into term contracts with quick turn over.

It's not like north america is buried in academics, rather there are ongoing efforts to reduce the number of tenured positions in favour of cheap labour and fast turnover.

People get upset when they watch their quality of life erode. Workloads are increasing while wages are dropping.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2012 [77 favorites]


Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?

I don't think it's quite that. A lot of people (me included) have a strong inner drive to explore a passion and share it with others. I know I'd be willing to teach for free if I got to set the curriculum. Colleges are pretty much experts at exploiting that drive. The going rate for teaching a one-semester college class in my area is about $2500 -- probably about half what a single student pays to take that class.

I wouldn't make lattes or collect trash or be an accountant for a subsistence income. But I'd gladly teach for one. It's the tragedy of people who feel like they were born to teach.
posted by miyabo at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


Surprising, but actually I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.

Now I'm even more surprised my comment was commented on so many times. Perils of being first.

I just said that because I teach HS in NYC and the field used to be wide open. (And I think with a PhD you would still be very desirable at the 'better' schools). An MA was only required after 5 years and it didn't need to be in the subject area (although you have to do related subject area graduate credits). I also don't make a ton of money, but food stamps are definitely not an issue.

The drive and aptitude to work with teenagers...well. That's a different story. Haha. You grow into it eventually, whether you want to or not, if you need the money badly enough.
posted by bquarters at 1:57 PM on May 10, 2012


Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?


I am perfectly happy with high school teachers holding PhDs.

I certainly hope that becomes more the norm.

But anyone who goes into grad school in the humanities without being willing to go this route is someone for whom I have very little sympathy.
posted by ocschwar at 1:57 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ideefixe: "Once again, there's so much missing from this tale of woe. She's in her 40s, didn't go to a top-tier school in Med. History, a field in which there are very few tenure-track gigs. Did her profs at UC Irvine never mention that she might have a tough time?"

schmod: You're right. This is clearly her fault. We should blame the woman on food stamps.


No, blame the profs who never told her the reality.

Why is that the reality? The blame there is a bit on adjuncting, and yes a bit on oversupply and the pyramid-scheme nature of academia.
posted by nat at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here are some significant facts from the article:

- "professors off the tenure track, [are] a group that now makes up 70 percent of faculties"

- "the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010" and "the number of people with Ph.D.'s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655"

and she was supposed to predict this when she started her PhD in 2002?
posted by jb at 1:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


And yet, John L. Hennessey, president of Stanford, earns $619,000 a year from his job, and well over ten times that from his tech investments and seats on the boards of Google and Cisco -- $3 million from 203-2007.

The 0.01% are rolling in it, and the rest are rolling in something else.
posted by Fnarf at 1:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [51 favorites]


"I had devoted myself to the world of cerebral activity. I had learned a practical skill that was elitist," he says. "Perhaps I should have been learning a skill that the economy supports."

Really? He only realized that now?

Look, I went to college too and I personally really enjoyed history. When I wrote a final paper on the Prohibition in Boston, I had difficulty cutting it down so it wasn't too long. It would have been great if I could have "followed my passion" and majored in English or History. Nevertheless, I chose to major in Computer Science instead because even at age 17, I realized that learning skills with zero practical application would be a really bad career move. So it's sort of hard to sympathize with people who don't catch the Clue Train until it's long since left the station.

The bottom line is: if you want to get a PhD in Medieval History and expect to make a living, you need to be at the very top of your field. Otherwise, it shouldn't be a huge shock when something like this happens to you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


The death of tenure-track is hardly overstated. At UBC I know professors in their 50s that have been teaching there for over a decade and are still hired on an annual contract basis (these are easy to spot as they beg you to fill out evaluations); I also know departments that haven't appointed a single tenured professor in over a decade; I also know departments that are firing the only professors qualified to teach specific courses instead of giving them raises they are contractually obliged to offer.

I also know business professors that bring home 300k salary.

The neoliberalization of education continues apace.
posted by mek at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


Those folks represent one part of what is taking place in America. Now for a moment, think of this:

1.faculty never warn incoming students there are few jobs--they would not have courses to teach and would get laid off
2. full-time faculty largely replaced by part timers and grad students and adjuncts
3. the percentage of administrators on most campuses has gone way up
4 the number of college presidents making over a million (plus benefits) has gone way up.

put that all together and what do you see?Our universities have become a microcosm of
our large corporations and banks.
posted by Postroad at 2:01 PM on May 10, 2012 [48 favorites]


Nevertheless, I chose to major in Computer Science instead because even at age 17, I realized that learning skills with zero practical application would be a really bad career move. So it's sort of hard to sympathize with people who don't catch the Clue Train until it's long since left the station.

I see this smug dismissiveness a lot. What should those of us who aren't good at computer science/math/engineering do?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2012 [96 favorites]


I don't understand the outrage. She got a hobby degree and works at Yavapai CC and is complaining about the pay? If money is what she wants, why does she not follow the legions of others who get hobby degrees, put them aside, and pursue a more lucrative profession?
posted by H. Roark at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?

No, actually, it's not. There is no surplus. There is still enough teaching work to be done in higher education (indeed, the amount of work to be done is growing as enrollments grow) that, if it were allocated to stable tenure-track positions at the currently customary amount of courses-per-semester for such positions at every institution, every Ph.D. could be fully employed. Instead, much of this teaching work is allocated to graduate TAs (who then eventually become "surplus" PhDs) and adjuncts, the "New Faculty Majority" being described here, at poverty-level wages and without benefits. Read Marc Bousquet's book How the University Works for the full version of this discussion; the short version is that the "PhD surplus" is pure myth.
posted by RogerB at 2:05 PM on May 10, 2012 [57 favorites]


Ghostride A little hint. Maybe 5% of people in those fields, the rest of us have to spend day and night mastering the material. I did 4 years of history and then switched to engineering, finishing up my senior year right now. It's about effort, not natural ability.
posted by karmiolz at 2:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


It is certainly bad now, but when was it ever not bad? I was an English Lit major who was considering getting a PhD, but changed my mind when I was appointed to a search committee and saw 300+ applicants for one position, all of whom were more or less qualified. This was 15 years ago.

If I could do it all over again, I would have majored in something other than English, but it was a larf. But it seems hard to imagine that anyone could go through the academy and not realize that jobs are few and far between.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


correction 5% are naturals*
posted by karmiolz at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012


I'm upset because we need historians. I tend to find the Humanities important.
posted by angrycat at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


Meanwhile higher ed tuition has gone up 128% since 1980.

I see this smug dismissiveness a lot. What should those of us who aren't good at computer science/math/engineering do?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:03 PM on May 10


Eat the punishment ramen we so richly deserve. At least that's what I gather from talking to people outside the humanities.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [41 favorites]




I don't understand the outrage. She got a hobby degree and works at Yavapai CC and is complaining about the pay? If money is what she wants, why does she not follow the legions of others who get hobby degrees, put them aside, and pursue a more lucrative profession?
posted by H. Roark at 2:03 PM on May 10 [+] [!]


We're not talking about the unemployed. We're talking about faculty.
That would be outrageous even if there weren't fantastic jobs in these fields within our generation's memory.

And, again, work loads are rising. Let's be painfully clear about this. There is plenty of work. You're looking at an attack on wages, not a flood of qualified people fighting for a newly limited pool of jobs.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


The situation is more complex than "too many PhDs."

From the MLA president:
In response to Rhoades and Schneider, a woman from the University of Cincinnati, one of the few administrators in attendance, replied that the summit needed to address the “850-pound gorilla in the room,” namely, the overproduction of PhDs. To scattered applause, she insisted that she would not be able to hire English professors at adjunct wages if there weren’t so many English PhDs glutting the market. I was sitting at a table with David Laurence, the director of research for the Modern Language Association, and I glanced over at him, since we had been discussing this topic at breakfast. The session ended before Laurence could respond, but he asked to open the following session with some useful data. To wit: according to the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, 65.2% of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the MA as their highest degree—57.3% in four-year institutions, 76.2% in two-year institutions. There are many factors affecting the working conditions of adjuncts, but the production of PhDs isn’t one of the major ones.
It's complicated, but to simplify, public institutions have been defunded consistently by states. They've responded to this my shifting more and more teaching to non-tenured teachers, some of whom have PhDs but many of whom do not. Turns out that this is a great way to get teaching staff cheaply, so private institutions have done similar things. At the same time you have heavy competition for, and therefore much higher salaries for, a small number of tenure positions in a few hot areas.
posted by feckless at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


wolfdreams01: the parents of the man profiled are both professors. I have a close friend who comes from a family where both of his parents are professors, his aunt and uncle are professors and his other uncle has a PhD as well. When you grow up in that environment, you really don't have the same opportunities to see other career options. It's like being the children of coal miners or fishermen -- sure, you might think you should try to do something else, but what if no one you know KNOWS how to move into something else?

Moreover: there is a major class issue here. If you are a very good student in undergraduate, but you do not come from a professional or business family, graduate school can seem to be the main means of social mobility. After all, that's where your talent and skills seem to be, and the path is very clear and open. What are the other options for a bright undergraduate (3.8 GPA or higher) who has no family connections (or no family connections outside academia)? I know that I went to graduate school because my choices (with a 4.0 GPA) appeared to be either that, or starting off as an administrative assistant or bank teller alongside all the people who got 3.0 GPAs.
posted by jb at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


and she was supposed to predict this when she started her PhD in 2002?

I got a BA in Poli Sci in the early 90s, looked at how many people planned on grad school so they could be professors, and quietly exited the amusement park. Almost 20 years ago it seemed obvious to me higher ed was looking a bit scammish and I am not a genius.
posted by codswallop at 2:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


You're right. This is clearly her fault. We should blame the woman on food stamps.

I've been kicked in the nuts by Life a couple of times now, and, keeping in mind what I said upthread, I would also add that sometimes we make bad choices, and those choices have consequences.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ghostride A little hint. Maybe 5% of people in those fields, the rest of us have to spend day and night mastering the material. I did 4 years of history and then switched to engineering, finishing up my senior year right now. It's about effort, not natural ability.

Oh, okay, bootstraps for everyone, the solution to everything.

But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:09 PM on May 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Last year, one in six people—almost 50 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population—received food stamps.

I think the US needs a few more arithmetic PhDs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I see this smug dismissiveness a lot. What should those of us who aren't good at computer science/math/engineering do?

That's my point - you don't have to be good at computer science to earn a living: you just have to be decent at it. Practical skills are more widely valued so the amount of talent needed to make a decent living is less. Impractical skills, on the other hand, require you to be the best in your field.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]



But anyone who goes into grad school in the humanities without being willing to go this route is someone for whom I have very little sympathy.


I kind of agree with the above. I did my MA in Psychology because I really wanted to, and I really wanted to learn the material. I didn't expect it to get me a job, it didn't, I did it at night to have no debt, and now...as I said above...I'm still teaching High School.

Maybe I'm bitter, but ...not getting a University faculty permanent job is obviously a definite possibility on the way in to any PhD program, I would assume. My brother got his PhD in the hard sciences and works in industry. I'm sure he would like to have the schedule of a professor (like my dad) but he doesn't.

I see this smug dismissiveness a lot. What should those of us who aren't good at computer science/math/engineering do?

We get lower paid jobs.
posted by bquarters at 2:11 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nevertheless, I chose to major in Computer Science instead because even at age 17, I realized that learning skills with zero practical application would be a really bad career move. So it's sort of hard to sympathize with people who don't catch the Clue Train until it's long since left the station.

Gonna laugh my ass off when the CS degree bubble pops like the law one did.

(Actually I won't. CS degrees are awesome. I thought about getting one, until I found out about Compilers. Bleah. Humanities degrees for the win!)
posted by feckless at 2:11 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Surprising, but actually I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.

Haha, I know a number of people who have attempted to teach high school. Moving around to pick up jobs. They have all been laid off at least once, usually more than that. They just keep getting fired and moved on to a new area because they were the newest hires. Being a teacher isn't easy or lucrative, not around here at least.
posted by Garm at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ghostride Learn a trade, work your way up through a company. These hobby degrees are fine if you have a trustfund to fall back on. If you plan on working for a living, getting a degree that amounts to discussing interesting things, which I seriously think is great, is not going to pay the bills for a large part of any population.
posted by karmiolz at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's my point - you don't have to be good at computer science to earn a living: you just have to be decent at it.

Mediocrity! It's the American way!
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


Is it... remotely possible we have more History PhDs than we need?

It's probably absolutely true. Grad students, in general, make universities money. They're cheap labour. As students, they pay lots of tuition and require few resources. At the same time, in Canada, at least, universities are constantly being pushed to offer more advanced degrees to more people. Also, now that everybody and their dog has a B.A., students pursue graduate work to further distinguish themselves from their peers, and the M.A. is becoming the new B.A.

Ph.D. students are often taught early and often that they are exceptional, and then they start to think that they will be the exception to the scads of post-graduate degree holders who can't find academic work. They get to the other side and find there's only one job posting in the entire country in their particular sub-field, and so they adjunct for a bit to wait out next year's job market. In the meantime, a new cohort of graduates emerge. There's now more competition for the one job that will show up next year, and scores of new graduates who are willing to work for peanuts in order to wait out the job market for another year. Lather, rinse, repeat.

By the time a few have enough sense to realize they should get off the train, they've spent ten years out of the work force and have no idea of how to market themselves outside of academia. They're talented, intelligent people, but they've only been taught how to approach a very specialized profession with its own peculiar hiring practices, and many professors (who are probably their only references at this point) will look down on them for trying to leave the ivory tower, so they might be ashamed to even ask. Those professors that are willing to help new grads get out of academia don't don't know the non-academic professional world any better than the students do and so can offer little help. Universities are starting to come around about this but it is still a slow process.

In the meantime, what do you do? You adjunct, because at least you're getting steady work, most of the time. You can't afford to not work, or re-train, because your student loans are coming due and even if they weren't you have rent to pay. It isn't like grad school's a convenient time to build up a savings account.
posted by synecdoche at 2:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


"I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare," she says.

I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare and is not doing something to rectify the situation. Such as getting another job.

Welfare is necessary. It should be freely available to those that need it. There should not be a stigma attached to it. We should hold up those that get off welfare as heroes in their own right.

However, welfare should include educational assistance where a skilled human resources professional stands in front of recipients and asks, "How can we help you get another job? Because you're current life choices aren't getting it done and this shit needs to stop for your own good."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


By the time a few have enough sense to realize they should get off the train, they've spent ten years out of the work force and have no idea of how to market themselves outside of academia.

And for those who have X chromosones, they will be hitting the time when they have to have kids asap, if they ever want to have any. At least you can mix parenting with adjuncting, unlike a 9-5 job (since you're coming in late and won't qualify for maternity leave).
posted by jb at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Q0: Is it important for students to learn about things from "hobby fields," to use the lovely phrase from upthread. By this I mean fields like literature, history, art, sociology, math, philosophy?

Q1: Is it important that people continue doing research in those fields?

Q2: Are these things so important that people should be paid a living wage to teach them and to research about them?

Q3: Will we be, in some way, fucked if people don't teach or research on these things?

I suppose opinions may differ, but for me the answer to each of these questions is a clear, loud "yes!" Maybe we're just so much worse off as a nation now than we were 30 years ago that we can no longer fund teaching and research at living-wage levels — if that is the case, then we need to be having a new discussion about how or whether we can manage to survive as a permanently fucked nation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [76 favorites]


(Also note that many university administrators—and I'm not even talking about Harvard here—make close to a million dollars a year with severance packages in the several hundreds of thousands.)
posted by synecdoche at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Personally, I believe a humanities Ph.D. teaching community college adds more actual value to society than a Zynga software engineer. I know the latter may be paid more, but neither is paid nearly so much as anyone at Goldman Sachs...
posted by mek at 2:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [71 favorites]


In many states, at least all the ones I've lived in, you need a degree in education to teach public school. Private schools will hire someone with a graduate degree in the subject, but they only hire a fraction of teachers that their public counterparts do.

When I started graduate school (Literature) in the 90s, we were told that a great wave of retirements would open up the job markets by the time we finished our doctorates. But people aren't retiring (some of us talked longingly of a system where we would could challenge tenured faculty to a fight to the death for their spot - particularly the really old ones), and when they do, they're often replaced with adjuncts, who cost a fraction of a full professor's salary and benefits.

It wasn't until I was halfway through my doctoral program that people began to advise against going to graduate school in the humanities. I cut my losses, accepted my ABD status, and was lucky enough to find a full-time faculty position at a community college. I didn't think I was lucky at the time, but each year, I see people with more prestigious backgrounds settling for poverty-wage adjunct work, and I am thankful for my 5/5 teaching load, my health insurance, and my working spouse. Because even though a career of comp and survey courses wasn't what I originally imagined for my future, I'm still getting paid to talk about what I love and to have interesting conversations with curious people. And grade, I suppose. I should probably go do that actually.

One day, I will discover a way to grade comp essays via scantron. One day.
posted by bibliowench at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was on food stamps while a student. Man, I miss those. I wish there was more public support.
posted by rebent at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is this bullshit about "hobby degrees"? The PhD is the professional qualification for the profession of higher education, just the way an MD is a qualification for practicing medicine. The people profiled in the article completed the professional degree, in order that they could work in the profession, and the profession's economic viability is now being systematically undermined, which is what the article is about.
posted by RogerB at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [87 favorites]


Man, Metafilter is consistently really cruel about people who Should Have Made Better Educational Choices, which I find to be pretty weird considering the high nerd levels hereabouts.

Isn't this just yet another version of:

a) Someone believes the Big Lie, that if you work hard and make the right choices, you can claw your way into a solidly middle-class existence
b) They make limiting choices (a specific degree, taking on debt for college, etc) that make achieving the goal very high-stakes, an all-or-nothing proposition
c) The goal proves completely elusive, through some combination of THEY LIED TO YOU and the economy and the person having shown a degree of hopefulness we used to call THE AMERICAN DREAM and now call shameful naivete

It makes me cranky that people so enjoy heaping shame on people about this stuff. Like you never believed what you were told? Like the world is fair? Like shitty stuff only ever happens to shitty people, and the reason your life is okay is because you are perfect? Come on.

This story is one of a million very similar ones told every day in the new America. We don't like hearing these stories because they remind us of how close we ourselves are to the abyss, and to get out of bed in the morning we need to believe that unlike that idiot over there, we can make all the right choices and thereby move into a livable future.

Welcome to The Sprawl, proles. Keep clawing at each other, pay no attention to Dick Cheney over there receiving a steady stream of PhD-candidate organs.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [169 favorites]


But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

This is just one example, of course, but:

1. I am bad at math and science
2. I don't have a degree in CS
3. BUT! I work in IT, writing software requirements (the key skill being writing, not math), and make a comfortable salary well above the poverty line. Do the programmers make more than me? Sure, and they're welcome to it, but I'm doing OK, too.**

For the record I think advanced humanities degrees are great and I'm hoping to continue my education in this aspect too. I'm just not betting my bacon-bringing-home skills on a career where such education directly applies.

**I recognize I'm a very lucky soul but I'm not the only one. Most of the non-coding people I work with in IT are exactly the same. They got degrees in the humanities and now they all work in software in some form or another.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:19 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: that's silly, there's nothing we could possibly learn from medieval history. It's not like medievalists study things like famine and how panics can cause famines like today...

oh wait, they do. Also the origins of the welfare state, how capitalism developed, and the origins of most of our modern assumptions about the world - and other useless stuff like that.
posted by jb at 2:19 PM on May 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


RogerB It is a hobby degree, as it's purpose is to bring personal enjoyment to those interested in that field. Were I rich I would have continued studying history, and art, and philosophy. Those are noble endeavours to be sure, they just aren't practical. Sometimes you have to make hard choices, and sometimes those choices include not being to live particularly comfortably doing your favorite thing in the world.
posted by karmiolz at 2:20 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hobby degrees is a bullshit term.
posted by feckless at 2:20 PM on May 10, 2012 [80 favorites]


Peasants can't have dreams and follow their passion and use their natural skills and talents in America. That's only for the aristocracy, or those who like computers.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:21 PM on May 10, 2012 [53 favorites]


But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

Go into sales and business development? Marketing? Customer relations? Relationship management? Product management? Project management? Online advertising?

There also the wide world of trades and health care, both of which require math. On the other hand, if you can pass high school math, you can have enough math to go into the trades.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

Marry a stockbroker. Or, if no stockbroker wants to marry you (like me), then work two jobs just to eke out a barely-middle class existence. It's not like the old days (for women, anyway) where we could just be taken in by our married siblings...
posted by Melismata at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


vibrotronica You are exactly correct. Unless you are wealthy you shouldn't be studying art history.
posted by karmiolz at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor" [on food stamps][single mother]

Here's more news: water is wet.

"Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state's allocation to Yavapai's operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college's operating budget. The cut led to an 18,000-hour reduction in the use of part-time faculty like Ms. Bruninga-Matteau."

1) why is Brewer identified as ", a Republican," - I think everyone who cares knows that?

2) $4.3 million - $900,000 = $3.4 million, or $3,400,000.

$3,400,000 / 18,000 = $188.89

So these food stampers were getting paid $188.89 per hour?

No wonder that "Republican" cut it!
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:22 PM on May 10, 2012


I'm sorry that the utopia of everyone following their innermost passions and being paid handsomely to do so doesn't exist. However it doesn't, hasn't ever, and will continue to be unreachable. You are basically arguing that you should be part of the priest class of ancient times, paid to think while everyone else keeps the plumbing working, the food on your table, and the lights on.
posted by karmiolz at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

It doesn't matter where your natural talents lie. Post-Secondary Education is a monetary investment, among other things. So, don't spend more money on the degree than you can realistically expect to pay back after you graduate. Some people see that as deriding people or shaming them (and sometimes it is framed to do just that), but it seems like pretty basic financial advice as well.
posted by soelo at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


wolfdreams01: " I chose to major in Computer Science instead because even at age 17, I realized that learning skills with zero practical application would be a really bad career move."

And at 17, I was being told that CS jobs would all be outsourced by the end of the decade.

Of course, this didn't happen, but for a time, it was very much a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation when deciding on your course of study.

The simple fact of the matter is that our academic centers are failing to respond to the current reality of the labor market, and we've been feeding extraordinarily bad information and advice to High School graduates and college students for some time now.

If we're going to expect our colleges and universities to function as job training centers, they need to start being held accountable to that role.
posted by schmod at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


In many states, at least all the ones I've lived in, you need a degree in education to teach public school.

You need a teaching credential and a BA or BS in the subject you want to teach... in primary education it doesn't matter what your degree is in. This is California, but many other states are the same.

The teachers in my district are paid from 50K to 100K/year, depending on length of service. After 10 years you're making about 80K, and that's for 9 months of teaching, 3 months off.

It's a great job if you have the aptitude, but the attrition rate is pretty severe, and it's really hard to get jobs right now, especially in the high-paying districts.
posted by Huck500 at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


So these food stampers were getting paid $188.89 per hour?

Overhead. It is a thing. Learn about it.
posted by aramaic at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


You are exactly correct. Unless you are wealthy you shouldn't be studying art history.

Awesome! Now we'll ensure that all study of art will be overwhelmingly told from the perspective of extremely wealthy people. I'm sure that won't have any negative cultural effects at all.
posted by feckless at 2:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


"A big part of what we do in graduate education is foster this sense of vocation and teaching for love and passion for what you do," says Mr. Bousquet, who is also a contributor to The Chronicle's Brainstorm blog. "We socialize people into accepting the coin of reputation as status capital. Some people are so deeply socialized into the regime of payment by way of status that they are essentially trapped in it for life."


This is the problem, and is why otherwise smart people are willing to accept adjunct wages.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:27 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


caclwmr4: ""Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor" [on food stamps][single mother]

Here's more news: water is wet.

"Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state's allocation to Yavapai's operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college's operating budget. The cut led to an 18,000-hour reduction in the use of part-time faculty like Ms. Bruninga-Matteau."

1) why is Brewer identified as ", a Republican," - I think everyone who cares knows that?

2) $4.3 million - $900,000 = $3.4 million, or $3,400,000.

$3,400,000 / 18,000 = $188.89

So these food stampers were getting paid $188.89 per hour?

No wonder that "Republican" cut it!
"
I think you're misunderstanding how a budget works, or possibly believing that the whole of the budget cuts was to salary? I'm not sure.
posted by boo_radley at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Awesome! Now we'll ensure that all study of art will be overwhelmingly told from the perspective of extremely wealthy people. I'm sure that won't have any negative cultural effects at all.

That's, um, I just don't even, what
posted by The World Famous at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


feckless It won't. Artists will continue to tell their own stories when they create works that are well received by the population. People who act as curators of art though can continue spinning their wheels pointlessly while anyone can have a conversation on the topic at anytime. I'm not sorry that the gate-keepers of what is popular/relevant/respected have been removed from power by a low paying field and the proliferation of information through modern technology. Are you seriously arguing that it is a shame that more people aren't admitted to the ridiculous profession of telling everyone else what art has what value?
posted by karmiolz at 2:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hobby degrees, huh? So, what's your thinking about teaching courses like, say, history or literature? Should we not require them at all in HS or college? If we do require them, do we expect them to teach themselves, or to entrust them to people making McDonald's wages, or what?
posted by tyllwin at 2:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?”
posted by ominous_paws at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shitty, and not what her work is actually worth to society but we aren't exactly logic-bound in the 21st century.

I think it's illogical to think that medieval history studies have much actual worth to 21st century students and society. It's nice to have, not need to have. It's a luxury.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Go into sales and business development? Marketing? Customer relations? Relationship management? Product management? Project management? Online advertising?

Basically: participate in the consumer economy, because value = production = consumption. Clear and simple, isn't it. Nevermind that real wages have dropped in the last 40 years despite economic growth, nevermind that more Americans are below the poverty line than ever before, this is all due to a lack of commitment to the program. If you weren't so tied to your hobby degrees, and your 40 hour work weeks, and your genuine interest in critical thinking, you would all be as rich as the rest of us! Which is to say miserable, but with a lot more stuff.
posted by mek at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [30 favorites]


I think it's illogical to think that medieval history studies have much actual worth to 21st century students and society. It's nice to have, not need to have. It's a luxury.

I wonder, based on this comment, how familiar you are with medieval history.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [49 favorites]


It doesn't matter where your natural talents lie.

Sad but true, and is the reason why I dropped my pursuit Music Composition degree. Would it have been awesome? Of course, and I still dream about it (and I still do self-study in my off hours). Meanwhile, I'm responsible for feeding some little mouths, so off I go to the cubicle. I'd love to change this if I could...so who do I vote for to get this utopia rolling?

Awesome! Now we'll ensure that all study of art will be overwhelmingly told from the perspective of extremely wealthy people. I'm sure that won't have any negative cultural effects at all.

I think this is a false dichotomy, based on the premise that a piece of paper from a University qualifies you to study art.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Contrast and compare this Phd with the janitor at Columbia. He clearly made a better deal.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


tyllwin I loved those courses, often my favorites. They are more luxury than necessity however. What would be of more use, annotating literature from another century, or learning how to balance a checkbook?
posted by karmiolz at 2:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


However it doesn't, hasn't ever, and will continue to be unreachable. You are basically arguing that you should be part of the priest class of ancient times, paid to think while everyone else keeps the plumbing working, the food on your table, and the lights on.

Alternately, they're arguing that with an increase in work load should come an increase in pay, rather than a decrease. Like, you know the people have mentioned before you derailed everything with how smart you are.

I know that people REALLY like having conversations about how THEY made the right choices, and everyone should make the choices they made. The thing is, sometimes people are legitimately getting screwed by a system, and sometimes these people do jobs that legitimately benefit all of society.

So why don't we actually discuss that?

I think it's illogical to think that medieval history studies have much actual worth to 21st century students and society. It's nice to have, not need to have. It's a luxury.


Folks is folks, we haven't changed that much as a species in a few hundred years.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I imagine it's fairly clear to everyone that this isn't a problem in isolation: It's just a very obvious symptom of a once massively rich hegemonic state now plainly poorer and diminished; shrinking tax revenues within that state; concentrated wealth; and increased reliance on privatized funding sources and a concomitant emphasis on bottom-line oriented "rationalization".

I suspect there aren't any internal solutions, other than the painful, gradual collective acceptance of the idea that, Hey, Getting a Humanities Grad Degree is a Pretty Bad Bet Right Now.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Contrast and compare this Phd with the janitor at Columbia. He clearly made a better deal.

At Columbia University, janitor becomes classics major. What a country!

posted by 2bucksplus at 2:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


a) Someone believes the Big Lie, that if you work hard and make the right choices, you can claw your way into a solidly middle-class existence
b) They make limiting choices (a specific degree, taking on debt for college, etc) that make achieving the goal very high-stakes, an all-or-nothing proposition
c) The goal proves completely elusive, through some combination of THEY LIED TO YOU and the economy and the person having shown a degree of hopefulness we used to call THE AMERICAN DREAM and now call shameful naivete

It makes me cranky that people so enjoy heaping shame on people about this stuff. Like you never believed what you were told? Like the world is fair? Like shitty stuff only ever happens to shitty people, and the reason your life is okay is because you are perfect? Come on.


I serriously considered going to grad school to get a PhD in Medieval History. I was lucky enough to realize that I am pretty lazy and nowhere near competitive enough to jockey for the miniscule number of open position that would deal with the stuff I care about. It was hard, though, and I got a ton of pressure from my parents and peers about why I wasn't continuing my education. It's really hard to break out of the narrow set of paths people set out for you in their minds, and I have nothing but sympathy for people who went farther than I did and ended up with problems worse than having people feel vaguely disappointed. It's ridiculous that I'm the lucky one because I hesistated, procrastinated, and threw up my hands in the end.

I think it's illogical to think that medieval history studies have much actual worth to 21st century students and society. It's nice to have, not need to have. It's a luxury.

Just out of curiousity, what is the latest date for historical study that's not a luxury? 1492? 1620? 1776? 1865? 1945?
posted by Copronymus at 2:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Man, Metafilter is consistently really cruel about people who Should Have Made Better Educational Choices, which I find to be pretty weird considering the high nerd levels hereabouts.

Crabs in a bucket. We'd rather sneer at someone's "bad choices" because it makes our slightly less terrible choices look like we were fucking geniuses at 17. Why try to fight the system that makes us live in a bucket when it's way more fun to spit on someone slightly lower down the ladder?
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [59 favorites]


I think the narrowing of the realm of "legitimate" or at least, well-respected academic careers is a very, very troubling phenomenon. This discussion is unimaginable 50, let alone 100 years ago; dismissing literature or mathematics or theoretical physics or philosophy or geography or history as a "hobby degree" and a luxury of the rich? (As a contemporary criticism of historical practice, sure, but contemporaneously? Unthinkable.) What if we had stopped paying professors in the 18th century and sent all our brightest minds to the factory, instead? Where would we be, now?

How can we think so narrowly now given how much we have gained from these fields in the recent past?
posted by mek at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


**I recognize I'm a very lucky soul but I'm not the only one. Most of the non-coding people I work with in IT are exactly the same. They got degrees in the humanities and now they all work in software in some form or another.

That's very true; probably something to do with a neat Myers-Briggs style division between people who naturally prefer mathy-logical problem solving vs those who prefer language-oriented communication.

You need mathy people to cut the code, but linguistic people to communicate with clients & gather & define requirements. So your BAs (business analysts) are very often B.As.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2012


I think this is a false dichotomy, based on the premise that a piece of paper from a University qualifies you to study art.

No, it's based on the premise that art (and literature and music and history and all the rest) have intrinsic value, and that as a culture we should promote both the production and the study of them in ways which are not solely dictated by current market value, and than one excellent way (certainly not the only way) to make sure that happens is to give people space, time, funding, and access to peers and mentors in an academic environment. And then, as a final step, that the opportunity to participate in that process should, in order to do it really well, be open and available to the best possible people who are interested, not merely the subset of those who happen to have started out life with piles of cash.
posted by feckless at 2:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


Balancing a bank account is a valuable life skill that I agree ought to be taught in high schools.

But I sort of shudder at the notion of a chemical engineer who doesn't know what the holocaust was because history and literature of a prior age is unimportant, and left for him to find out on his own if likes. I think a general education requirement is a good one, and that the people providing it should be paid a living wage, not a permatemp one.
posted by tyllwin at 2:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [31 favorites]


Of course it isn't a meritocracy. However pretending it is, then ending up in a crap situation, isn't the way to go.
posted by karmiolz at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2012


If you weren't so tied to your hobby degrees, and your 40 hour work weeks, and your genuine interest in critical thinking, you would all be as rich as the rest of us! Which is to say miserable, but with a lot more stuff.

Well, earning a decent living does have its attractions. In our household, I'm the only one working for now. What this means is we don't have the new car and we don't live in a house and we don't have the vacations to Mexico at spring break.

On the other hand, we also don't have a retirement nest egg, and there is considerable stress trying to make ends meet during the feast or famine existence of a freelancer. But I get by.

It seems weird to spell this out, but applying your skills in a way that others find valuable really improves your quality of life in a number of ways.

What are we? 10 years old here? Are we at the level of thinking "it's so unfair no one wants to pay me to research medieval ballads"?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


You need mathy people to cut the code, but linguistic people to communicate with clients & gather & define requirements. So your BAs (business analysts) are very often B.As.

...as are the people who successfully sell such things.
posted by jquinby at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2012


So there's two discussions going on. One is the discussion about whether or not people with advanced degrees in non-business fields are fucked right now. This is not a particularly interesting discussion, though, because aside from a few exceptions the answer is immediately apparent to even the most casual observer. The other discussion is whether or not we, we as a people, a society, a culture, a nation, are ourselves all fucked if the people with advanced degrees in non-business fields remain fucked.

I would be much more interested in the contributions of some of the people in this thread if they would acknowledge that an answer to the first question in no way represents an engagement with the second one.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I remember a friend in one of my undergrad classes who was working on her PhD told everyone that if they wanted to do grad school, you should do it right after undergrad. If you went out into the "real world" and had a taste of what it was like making real money, you would not want to go back to living as a starving student.

But I was in a different situation than the younger kids. I had been out in the real world after dropping out, made good money, and only returned to finish my BFA when I was 38. I thought college would be a good place to hide out from the recession for a few years. It had decimated my profession and reduced me to utter poverty and years of unemployment, with only brief stretches of marginal employment. It was actually my Mom who convinced me to go back to finish my degree, she said nobody would ever take me seriously, when I claimed such advanced skills, unless I had a degree to back it up. A degree would fix my broken career, and also prove I could sit down for years and conform to someone else's rules.

So I went back and finished my BFA, and also a simultaneous BA. That was stupid, I could have done an MA or MFA for the same money, back in the early 90s when it was still cheap. But ever since I graduated in 1996, I have still been in utter poverty with only brief stretches of marginal employment.

I recently started an application to go back and do an MFA. It seems like a way out of poverty, but I have my doubts. It offers an immediate improvement in lifestyle, a possible way off food stamps. The professor said I could easily do the degree for no money, even earning money along the way, my application was strong enough that I would probably get a full ride plus grants. But again, this MFA area is another of my personal interests in antiquated, obsolete technologies. I am essentially considering going back to get another degree in buggy whip manufacturing, even though I would be studying with a MacArthur Fellow who was recognized for his lifetime contribution to preserving and teaching the art of buggy whip manufacturing. There may be no career path there, unless I want to join academia and compete for the rare positions teaching buggy whip making. But perhaps it is already too late. I only decided to apply after the deadline for this year's applications had already passed. All the fellowships and grants have already been awarded. I would have to apply for fall 2013, and at the rate I'm going, I won't make it that far.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:42 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tip a Buick I think we have undervalued effort more than undervalued advanced liberal arts degrees. The very nature of those fields makes them difficult to monetize. The passion for their study is laudable, the effect on our culture is laudable. I just do not believe we are going to create a society which does financially support their study en masse simply by throwing more PhDs at the problem. I want a world in which people are comfortable and taken care of, that their personal pursuits can sustain them. We won't get there by pretending we already live there though.
posted by karmiolz at 2:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What are we? 10 years old here? Are we at the level of thinking "it's so unfair no one wants to pay me to research medieval ballads"?

It may be an accidental turn of phrase, but your comment does imply that medieval researchers should be forced to compete for funding in some sort of free market economy - "no one wants to pay me." This is, of course, another huge part of the problem; it is becoming less and less ideologically acceptable to directly fund the arts and humanities. The recognition of their non-monetary value to society is slipping, in some places faster than others. As far as Canada goes, I worry about the future of SSHRC under Harper...
posted by mek at 2:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


The essential core of this debate appears to be Adam Smith's invisible hand saying "You are worth this amount as a result of your skills and life choices" and a bunch of PhD students saying "No, no, we are worth so much more than the market is willing to pay! What would life be without art, or history? Why don't people APPRECIATE us?"

And that's perfectly OK, because everybody in the world thinks that they're underappreciated or not making enough. But people have a right to appreciate whatever they like and if you're asking other people to give you more money, you have to offer them something that they value, not something that you think they should value. And if people don't recognize that incredibly simple transactional process and make plans for it, then the rest of us are certainly entitled to laugh at them.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'm amazed that the notion of an advanced degree as a path to a rewarding career is taking so long to die.

I'm more amazed that the concept of working for other people's dreams as being somehow rewarding ever came to life in the first place.

Spending a life learning seems a lot more rewarding to me.
posted by DU at 2:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


part of the priest class of ancient times, paid to think

This is complete bollocks, sorry. Almost every high-level profession is "paid to think", including CEOs, engineers, managers, editors, and even lowly marketers. A "hobby degree", so-called, isn't solely a trade qualification, it's learning how to understand, manipulate, and create ideas. Being able to do that is incredibly valuable in any profession. And, for chrissakes, your job is not your life; if you can't do those things, you can't be a good citizen or family member either.

I know a lot of engineer types who could definitely have benefited from a more rounded education in the liberal arts. The ones who've done particularly well have no difficulty at all grasping why things like literature and history and art are valuable.

What I'm hearing here in this thread is a lot of attacks on the very notion of the liberal arts. That's shocking to me. It's Republican antediluvianism, is what it is, and it's driving our country down, not up. Engineers without art are of no value to anyone.
posted by Fnarf at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2012 [67 favorites]


Overhead. It is a thing. Learn about it.
I deal with it every day. How was the $188.89/hour listed in the article allocated at that "college"? $10/hour to the adjunct professor and $179.89/hour overhead? Overeducated PhDs as "adjunct professors" are cheap, and are nearly pure incremental cost, as administrative and physical maintenance overhead stays about the same.

I think you're misunderstanding how a budget works, or possibly believing that the whole of the budget cuts was to salary? I'm not sure.
The writer of the article took a deliberate malicious swipe at Governor Jan Brewer. Whatever anyone thinks of Brewer with this or any other issue, the statement in the article which I quoted is borderline libel and slander.
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:49 PM on May 10, 2012


What are we? 10 years old here? Are we at the level of thinking "it's so unfair no one wants to pay me to research medieval ballads"?

From my perspective, apparently we're at the level of thinking "University is supposed to be a trade school and anyone who doesn't think so deserves to be mocked and sneered at."

That so many people immediately adopt the perspective of "If you can't get paid for it, it is useless" is disturbing. Far too few ask critical questions about how this change has come about and what it means.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [68 favorites]


The essential core of this debate appears to be Adam Smith's invisible hand saying "You are worth this amount as a result of your skills and life choices" and a bunch of PhD students saying "No, no, we are worth so much more than the market is willing to pay! What would life be without art, or history? Why don't people APPRECIATE us?"

Who says that your anthropomorphized Market can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society?
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Moreover (sorry, this is one of those topics I can't shut up about), I think we will be perfectly, completely fucked if the study of sociology, history, literature, philosophy, math, political science and the various non-lucrative sciences is assigned to the rich as a privilege. It's somewhat unfashionable to note that things that happen within academia have an effect on the outside world, but, well, they do, and if we assign everything non-lucrative to the rich — and when you get down to it, the bulk of human activity is non-lucrative — this seems to smoothly lead to the viewpoints of the rich becoming seen as the only valid or serious viewpoints.

Christ, it's so weird to find myself describing what's actually happening in the world as if it were some sort of thought experiment...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [37 favorites]


Who says that your anthropomorphized Market can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society?

Oh, and I suppose you can? Or maybe the PhD students can accurately value themselves; I'm sure that won't lead to bias.

This is a nonsensical argument. Show me one person who can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society and I'll show you a huge liar.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:53 PM on May 10, 2012


Show me one person who can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society and I'll show you a huge liar.

Well we had some historians that could tell us about the specific contributions of specific fields of knowledge in specific societies, but unfortunately they quit and are currently managing at McDonald's.
posted by mek at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


>Engineers without art are of no value to anyone.

Actually, that's part of the issue: Quantity, regulated by an optimized algorithm, really can, for the most part, in most cases, effectively replace Quality.

Split-testing ultimately tends to out-compete expertise's intuition, given a sufficiently large number of inputs. And due to the Emerging Global Brain yadda yadda yadda, the number of inputs-- democratized and free-- grows relentlessly.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


caclwmr4: the "cut led to an 18,000-hour reduction in the use of part-time faculty"; some portion of the cut led to payroll cuts. We have no idea if that portion is 100% or 1%. You are assuming 100% of the cut was due to payroll cuts, which strains the bounds of my most charitable interpretation of your reading comprehension.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay all y'all "humanities/social science PhD types should just get a real job"crowd, make what you will of this.

Later tonight, I'm going to a free community education night (film screening and discussion) run by a beloved former teacher of mine. I took his class a few years ago at a big state university, where he was adjuncting. He got laid off from that position last fall, and is now waiting tables for income. The community education series is his way of not letting his brain atrophy, and continuing to do what he really loves: teach.

He's got other ways of making money, but the drive to teach is still there. I really believe that, for some people, you can't stamp that out. You can present all the arguments you want about how computer science is more practical. You can make adjuncting conditions grueling, take away the health insurance, take away the job protections, bring the wages down to poverty level--and yet, the idea of teaching something you're passionate about is still compelling.

It sounds like several of you would value this drive in a more lucrative profession. I admire it too. That doesn't make it okay to mock the same level of determination in a field that you've arbitrarily decided isn't valuable.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:57 PM on May 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


I would be much more interested in the contributions of some of the people in this thread if they would acknowledge that an answer to the first question in no way represents an engagement with the second one.

Look, I have a Lit degree and I write press releases and websites for a living, in order to write plays and short stories and fiction and all of the other things that make my life worth living. So I get the trade out. But I struggle a bit with the idea that any study of Literature should be chucked in favor of checkbook balancing and computer science. I mean, are you guys still bitter about not getting invited to that Art Department party junior year? Because I went. And it wasn't all that special, no matter what Ian said.
posted by thivaia at 2:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


The essential core of this debate appears to be Adam Smith's invisible hand saying "You are worth this amount..."

It's also possible that a power dynamic results in someone's invisible thumb on the scales. To use an example from history, the "worth" of the French nobility vs the "worth" of the populace, and the "worth" of the Cossacks vs the "worth" of the peasants was not cleanly determined by an invisible hand.
posted by tyllwin at 2:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem here isn't that people are studying the wrong things; it's that they're absurdly uncreative about what to do with the degree they have.

So: there are some degrees that really are pure hobby. Medieval history's probably one, folklore probably another - these are the "underwater basket weaving" degrees that conservatives love to lampoon. Those probably don't have an application in the real economy.

But others similarly lampooned really do. Got a sociology degree? Make sure you do plenty of quant work, then go into market research. Political science? Move to DC and work for lobbyists. History? Go into consulting or business research; my history degree prepared me pretty well for that. Poetry? Go into copywriting. Journalism? PR.

What actually happens, though, is that people with those majors believe themselves to be precious little flowers; they envision life in a leafy New England college town and a professorial blazer and Volvo. They couldn't possibly debase themselves by joining a company and working their way up.

Be creative and relatively intelligent and you're almost guaranteed to make a living.
posted by downing street memo at 2:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Ghostride: But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

Find something you enjoy, and start doing it, even for free, until you're good enough at it to get paid (or to get paid more.) Worst case, you have a hobby. Best case, you have a career (or even some fame, if you produce media about the subject.)

This is no idle suggestion; I had a ten-year career in television by doing that, even though I didn't get a degree. My current career came from self-learning, and while I wouldn't call myself "good" at the technical side of things, but I do enjoy it, and that enthusiasm carries me along. Also, it turns out I possess other qualities for facilitating team progress that serve me very well, things that aren't technical at all.

Another example: a friend who loves motorcycles, and spent lots of time working on his motorcycles, and eventually became a motorcycle salesman (and a good one) because he's selling people quality things that he knows they need, because he genuinely cares about motorcycling and the people who do it. He supplements his income teaching motorcycle safety courses on the weekends, and he does pretty well.

Another example: a relative who, despite entering college at a time when radio is "dead" in the US, fast-talked his way into a college radio show...which led to a stint at a larger station in the community (at another college, actually)...which led to an internship at a major-market station owner...which led to him being hired out of college as a program directory for that station owner. Frankly, I don't even know what his degree is in -- I only know that he spent all four years of college having a fantastic time doing what he loves, and it led to him leaving college during this recession and going straight into a career doing it.

The point, here, is that if you want to go work for a corporation, doing corporation things, you should probably get a degree and hope for the best...but if you want to make a living, there are lots of other ways to go about it, and it is probably a good idea to start with something you genuinely care about (enough that you'd do it for free.)
posted by davejay at 2:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


wolfsdream01:
You make a compelling argument that "people have a right to appreciate whatever they like and if you're asking other people to give you more money, you have to offer them something that they value, not something that you think they should value. " It does make sense, that as long as people are able to get others to pay them money in the market, then their job has value. If they can't get others to pay enough to survive, then their job has no value, and it's basically a hobby. Right?
posted by wuwei at 2:59 PM on May 10, 2012


"leaving college" should have been "graduating college", as he did graduate.
posted by davejay at 3:00 PM on May 10, 2012


From my perspective, apparently we're at the level of thinking "University is supposed to be a trade school and anyone who doesn't think so deserves to be mocked and sneered at."

I don't think I've mocked or sneered at anyone in this thread. I also think that people who somehow assume that "things have changed" and that society somehow no longer values humanities degrees also forget that, a couple of generations ago, it was only the middle class and upper middle class who went to university at all.

On the other hand, back then (I'm thinking of 1970 or so) it was still possible to get a job in manufacturing or something.

We need to rethink university because population growth in North America has slowed, and so has the expansion of post-secondary education. The jobs as professors just aren't there.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:00 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we will be perfectly, completely fucked if the study of sociology, history, literature, philosophy, math, political science and the various non-lucrative sciences is assigned to the rich as a privilege.

It has almost always been thus.
posted by downing street memo at 3:00 PM on May 10, 2012


But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

What do you want to do?
Is there someone willing to pay you to do it?
Yes -> Do what you want to do.
No -> Are you comfortable with a meager income supplemented by food stamps?
Yes -> Do what you want to do
No -> Do something else.
posted by rocket88 at 3:02 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you weren't so tied to your hobby degrees, and your 40 hour work weeks, and your genuine interest in critical thinking

I really don't like the implication that only a person with an advanced humanities degree can acquire critical thinking skills, or that those of us working 40-hour work weeks are miserable.

and when you get down to it, the bulk of human activity is non-lucrative

So the heart of this matter, really, is an argument about the value of invisible-hand style capitalism. It's not hard to see that the invisible hand is a dick. What's harder to see, I think, is what to do next. This is a hard problem.

What societal model could be promoted that will allow the greatest possible quality of life for the largest amount of people while also allowing for an adequate study of non-essential skills? I would seriously like to know how this works. I suspect a lot of political and economics theories attempt this, and Communism seems to have been a grand failed experiment on this front as well...so what is the answer?

For the record: I will gladly pay higher taxes to help improve academic careers for people with advanced non-practical degrees, becuase I'd like to tell my kids that that's a viable career path.
posted by Doleful Creature at 3:02 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


"led to"
Weasel words. The intent of the writer is clear. Nothing else is noted in the article, no other type cuts at the college resulting from the bill signed by the Governor after being passed by the whole elected State government.

(Maybe I can print the article and have a Medieval History PhD read it and give me her opinion on the statement, when she gets her break at Big Lots.)
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:04 PM on May 10, 2012


Be creative and relatively intelligent and you're almost guaranteed to make a living.

Unless you get sick and don't have insurance.
posted by The World Famous at 3:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


We need to rethink university because population growth in North America has slowed, and so has the expansion of post-secondary education. The jobs as professors just aren't there.

Again, the facts just do not bear out your implication that there is a causal connection between the first thing and the second thing. What has happened is not that enrollment growth has slowed but that teaching work has been reallocated en masse over the last two decades, away from stable tenure-track jobs and toward semester-by-semester temporary adjunct and TA positions. What's happened is a top-down, managerially imposed corporatization (or neoliberalization or proletarianization, choose the word you prefer) of the university as a workplace, not a decline of demand for workers in higher-education teaching/research.
posted by RogerB at 3:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


Fnarf Actually engineers without art are still engineers. You want to talk about problem solving, learning how to think, how to accrue knowledge? Nothing will teach those skills like a STEM field. Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival. They are vital to subjective things like personal enjoyment or expression, and people will continue to engage in there study as long as people exist. It is a luxury, accept that and let all work towards a world in which we can focus on luxuries instead of necessities. We are not even close to that world right now.
posted by karmiolz at 3:09 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


We need to rethink university because population growth in North America has slowed, and so has the expansion of post-secondary education. The jobs as professors just aren't there.

The problem is, that the jobs as professors are still there. Rather, the work is. The numbers of classroom hours that need teachers hasn't dropped. But now we use temps who don't get benefits, or raises, and put the difference in other people's pockets.

I'm not actually advocating that a degree in folklore ought to be an automatic ticket to a middle-class lifestyle. I do argue that someone who works close to full-time teaching for a University ought to have insurance and a salary that doesn't qualify for food stamps.
posted by tyllwin at 3:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [31 favorites]


Who says that your anthropomorphized Market can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society?

The "anthropomorphized Market" you sneer at is the collective actions of humans. Therefore, it's not anthropomorphized. It actually anthropology in action.

So, yes, it accurately values things, inasmuch as humans are capable of doing so at any given moment.

Are you saying there exists a person that is smarter than all the other humans at once? Hindsight doesn't count.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's happened is a top-down, managerially imposed corporatization (or neoliberalization or proletarianization, choose the word you prefer) of the university as a workplace, not a decline of demand for workers in higher-education teaching/research.

Wording this as if it were some kind of conspiracy theory is so misleading. There are something like 2500 4-year universities in the US. The question to ask is - why has the structure changed? If demand for expertise remains as high as you say it is, why didn't faculty move on from the first college that "neoliberalized" (whatever that means) themselves, towards somewhere where their skills were more valued?
posted by downing street memo at 3:12 PM on May 10, 2012


Most of the non-coding people I work with in IT are exactly the same. They got degrees in the humanities and now they all work in software in some form or another.

My older sister, who had studied humanities in undergraduate school, learned the ins and outs of insurance claims processing by working temp jobs and became a highly paid consultant advising companies on how to streamline and automate their systems and how to set up training of staff to implement those systems. She quit it to go back to school and get a doctorate in history. Now she's grubbing for part-time teaching positions paying 1/4 of what she got as a consultant. [Nelson laugh here]
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:13 PM on May 10, 2012


The problem is, that the jobs as professors are still there. Rather, the work is. The numbers of classroom hours that need teachers hasn't dropped. But now we use temps who don't get benefits, or raises, and put the difference in other people's pockets.

People don't get paid for how much they work. They get paid on how much value they deliver (with all the appropriate caveats about human shortsightedness, etc.)
posted by downing street memo at 3:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a grad student in physical anthropology right now; my attitude going into graduate school was that, unless I received funding, it would not be worth going. Fortunately, I received funding, except that funding is tied to teaching undergraduate classes which would ideally be taught by tenure-track professors except it's much cheaper to higher a bunch of graduate students and pay tuition and a stipend rather than get enough TT professors to teach enough introductory classes to keep enrollment up to keep the university allocating money to the department to pay for professors and graduate students.

But many people come into my program, and others, without guaranteed funding. I think that it's blatantly wrong for departments to accept students they don't have the money to support given that those are often the students who are at the "less competitive" edge of the grad student scale who are consequently going to be less competitive for TT jobs in the future and ultimately end up just another face in a sea of adjuncts. Of course, I have absolutely no guarantee of anything different.

Despite that, I think my research is worthwhile and provides value to society. I study the behavior and ecology of a group of highly endangered monkeys that are the central species of primates in their particular forest. If there are no more Diana monkeys, soon the primate community will fall apart. Primates are important seed dispersers and help maintain forest health and productivity. The forest I work in is the last intact segment of a forest that used to cover most of West Africa; it provides economic benefits through hunting, lumber, charcoal, plant products and ecotourism to populations in the Ivory Coast. It also acts as a carbon sink.

When I tell people "Yeah, I study primate behavior, and I use federal funds to do so through my fellowship at a public university and (hopefully) through grants," people think I'm a leach and a mooch and helping destroy society. There are people in my department studying health through skeletal remains of populations several thousand years old that existed during political turmoil and crises; these have implications for how our society deals with inter-community strife and political transitions. Those ridiculous medieval history Ph.Ds are probably some of the people in the best position to tell us about patterns of human behavior during religious conflicts and at times when there is a huge disparity between social classes, and they can tell that story from a bunch of different perspectives. When we demonize fields as "hobbies of the rich" or laugh at those silly people who were too shortsighted and bought into their hopes and aspirations despite the odds, we lose a lot of intellectual possibilities and I think that's a pretty terrible thing.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [80 favorites]


The "anthropomorphized Market" you sneer at is the collective actions of humans. Therefore, it's not anthropomorphized. It actually anthropology in action.

Ah, yes, the Mitt Romney "Corporations are people, my friend" worldview in action.
posted by The World Famous at 3:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love the arrogant assertion that their is no artistry in engineering, or any science by the way.
posted by karmiolz at 3:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


There are lots of aspects to this but I really have to say that when I was in high school the merit-based academic career track seemed just a little bit too good to be true to me... through scholarships, someone else invests a hundred-grand-plus in your education, leading eventually up to tenure, a job you basically can't be fired from, all over some subject that is studied for the love of learning and has only the most remote, tenuous connection to financing all of this?

Honestly, if this sort of situation ends up being the sort of thing that primarily falls into rich peoples' laps, and perhaps developed from wealthy eccentrics and clergy living lives of guaranteed good fortune in the first place, it really doesn't surprise me. If this is basically just institutions and powers-that-be cutting faculty a smaller piece of the pie that's bad, but it seriously all looks too good to be true anyways from the outside.
posted by XMLicious at 3:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, depending on how much money their parents have, and that they are endowed by their Bankers with certain inalienable, but economically fungible, rights, that among those are Life, in as much as the maintenence of said life remains profitable to health insurance companies, Liberty, depending on the quarterly needs of private prisons, and the Pursuit of Happiness along certain narrow paths proscribed by CEOs for the profitability of multinational corporations which are also people but are kind of like super-people in that their wants and needs are more important than regular, non-incorporated people.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, yes, the Mitt Romney "Corporations are people, my friend" worldview in action.

You know, this snark will predictably get you a ton of favorites, but that actually is how markets work. Not sure why you connect that to "corporations are people"; markets really are aggregated human preferences.
posted by downing street memo at 3:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ah, yes, the Mitt Romney "Corporations are people, my friend" worldview in action.

You're mistaking corporations for the market in which they operate. A corporation sells Tide detergent. People buy it.

So, you're wrong ... and being a bit of a putz, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:18 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, this snark will predictably get you a ton of favorites, but that actually is how markets work.

No, it's not. Markets don't act like a single, monolithic, rational human being.

[rant]Why doesn't anyone actually pay attention to the assumptions that economic theories are based on?!?[/rant]
posted by The World Famous at 3:19 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anyone else find the second paragraph stomach-turning? "... says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. "
posted by hoyland

I think they teach you at J-school to be constantly astonished when stereotypes aren't true.
posted by RobotHero at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Markets don't act like a single, monolithic, rational human being.

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. They - to varying degrees of accuracy, depending on a multitude of factors including regulation, information asymmetry, etc. - aggregate the preferences of individual humans.
posted by downing street memo at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of engineer types who could definitely have benefited from a more rounded education in the liberal arts. The ones who've done particularly well have no difficulty at all grasping why things like literature and history and art are valuable.

Agreed, but equally there are a lot of liberal arts types who could definitely have benefited from a more rounded education in the sciences. To be educated you need to be at least basically competent in math, and have some grasp of economics. I learned all my economics after finishing high school, and the older I get the more I think it should be a core subject because resource management is such a basic skill.

If the job of teaching medieval history is being dumped in the laps of graduate TAs and underpaid adjunct professors, then where is the money going in medieval studies departments? If there are too few interested students, that might be one problem; we might indeed have an oversupply of such departments.* If there are more than enough students, then maybe the tenured professors and administrators are taking up too great a share of the budget.

I mean, there are three basic questions here:
- how many people want to study this subject?
- how much money is available to teach this subject?
- how is that money distributed?


* Of course we would be more poorly off if people were stop studying medieval history, but we also need to consider the possibility that if studying medieval history in the US gets too expensive, it might be a lot more economical for students to study it in Europe, where there's an abundance of history departments with the source material literally on the doorstep. Likewise, if your chosen specialty was the history of the American Civil War, you'd be better off studying and teaching that in the US, because the job prospects for Civil War experts in, say, Paris or London are probably poor.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


People don't get paid for how much they work. They get paid on how much value they deliver

Neither, actually. They are paid based on how much they can convince/force the employer to pay. Or, if you want to look at it from the other direction, how little the employer can get away with paying them.
posted by Longtime Listener at 3:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. They - to varying degrees of accuracy, depending on a multitude of factors including regulation, information asymmetry, etc. - aggregate the preferences of individual humans.

I guess I misinterpreted what you meant when you said that the market is not "anthomorphized."
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on May 10, 2012


Oh, and I suppose you can? Or maybe the PhD students can accurately value themselves; I'm sure that won't lead to bias.

This is a nonsensical argument. Show me one person who can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society and I'll show you a huge liar.


You said that this was a fight between the Invisible Hand's value and the value that the grad students want, with the assumption that the Invisible Hand was right. They could both be wrong.

The "anthropomorphized Market" you sneer at is the collective actions of humans. Therefore, it's not anthropomorphized.


No, a flock of birds is not a bird. A group of people is not a human. One meaning of Anthropomorphize giving human characteristics to something that is not a human. I used the word correctly.

The market's judgement of value things is only for certain definitions of value, and only in the present tense. Which was my point.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am even more surprised that the Medieval History PhD person isn't teaching High School. It may not have been the intended plan, but would be helpful to rise above poverty level.

Rules vary from state to state, but here in California, even with a PhD in an in-demand area like Science or Math, last time I looked it takes a year of (trivial in content, not so trivial in time) coursework, plus about another half year or year of apprenticeship / student teaching, before you can get a credential that allows you to teach in public schools.

It's not easy to switch from college teaching to public school teaching, even with a PhD.
posted by zippy at 3:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


People don't get paid for how much they work. They get paid on how much value they deliver

Sure, over the long term. But in a shorter time frame, it's nonsense. A sweatshop worker was not paid according to the value they deliver. They were paid the minimum required when the employer's superior ability to form cartels and use coercion was figured in. That imbalance becomes more and more distorted until some violent upheaval resets things. That can be a soft reset as we had in America with the rise of labor unions and the New Deal, or it can be a hard one like they had under Mao Tse Tung.

I always prefer the former.
posted by tyllwin at 3:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


Am I the only person who viewed this as a success story? PhD in an esoteric field with no practical application is employed and receives necessities from society as a whole. Is she really complaining her employment isn't up to her standards and that she isn't more publically funded?
posted by karmiolz at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think I've mocked or sneered at anyone in this thread.

My apologies - I didn't intend to imply that you were part of the Sneering Brigade.

(All of the "you"s in the following paragraph are general "you"s.)

tyllwin makes a good point: at a time when more people are going to college than ever before, there is no lack of work. The question we ought to be asking is why we devalue this work to the extent we do? Instead of pointing and laughing at the PhD who's doing what she went to school to learn to do, and is doing it despite living on food stamps, why aren't you asking why this system is tolerable?
posted by rtha at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


They were paid the minimum required when the employer's superior ability to form cartels and use coercion was figured in.

But employers can't always, everywhere, use coercion. Specific real-world circumstances are necessary, too: In that case, it was the fact that a million potential workers, fresh from farms in the countryside, were willing to take the sweatshop worker's place).

Sweatshop workers had no credible threat of exit, and the capitalists of that time took advantage. It's similar in academia; academics have no credible threat of exit and so they're paid poorly. But, the key difference is: academics have high levels of human capital and almost surely could put their thinking skills to use elsewhere; for cultural reasons, they (by and large) refuse to do it.
posted by downing street memo at 3:35 PM on May 10, 2012


downing street memo: It has almost always been thus.

Yup. I don't think it's a coincidence, though, that the overall positive trend in the rare periods when this was even partially not the case isn't a coincidence.

The market definitely wants scholarship and speech to be a privilege of the rich. The market, though, doesn't have our interests in mind. And, well, I think it's fair to say that the market is a moron, though one that can be remarkably useful when it is harnessed and guided away from its natural tendency toward selecting the wrong answers. Of course, harnessing it requires first acknowledging that it's too dumb to be left to its own devices.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not easy to switch from college teaching to public school teaching, even with a PhD.

As someone with an MA in, ahem, history (thesis: medieval law) who came thisclose to a high school teaching career before realizing what a bad fit it would be, I'm here to tell you that people who have a passion for research--a large part of what we were told academic careers would be like in the 80s and early 90s--do not necessarily have the personalities or nonacademic wherewithal to teach.

Teaching and research aren't the same skill sets. PhDs/university professors are expected to have a lot of research skill and a certain amount of teaching skill; high school teachers are expected to have teaching skills only. And the teaching skills for young adults aren't necessarily the same as for teenagers, on top of that. If university is supposed to be a trade school and we're supposed to be allotting and receiving career-specific degrees, we should be aware that those skill sets aren't fungible.
posted by immlass at 3:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's a clear difference between aggregated human preferences weighted unevenly and the preferences of a single individual human. That the market is made from the actions of people doesn't mean the market is itself anthropomorphic. Claiming that it is is like claiming that a giant vat of Spam is a pig.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:39 PM on May 10, 2012


downing street memo: "Be creative and relatively intelligent and you're almost guaranteed to make a living."

The suggestion that able-bodied, reasonably undamaged humans hold much of their destiny in their hands is one of triggers for a barrage of poverty porn around these parts.

You Can't Tip a Buick: "I think we will be perfectly, completely fucked if the study of sociology, history, literature, philosophy, math, political science and the various non-lucrative sciences is assigned to the rich as a privilege."

It has only NOT been a privilege for the past 50 years or so, so I don't know what you're talking about.
posted by falameufilho at 3:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


where is the money going in medieval studies departments?

Are you not following the argument? It's going AWAY. Funding at universities is being slashed right and left. The only thing universities are interested in paying for anymore is the athletic department. And while everybody believes the propaganda that the athletic department earns money hand over fist, it's just not true, and even when it is true it's only because of accounting trickery (like charging stadium or other facility construction to a different budget, or the various athlete perks, etc.) But the reality is, higher education in this country -- one of our greatest global assets -- is rotting away while people natter on about "the free hand of the market".
posted by Fnarf at 3:41 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


But, the key difference is: academics have high levels of human capital and almost surely could put their thinking skills to use elsewhere; for cultural reasons, they (by and large) refuse to do it.

I think you overestimate this. They surely have the ability to move into entry-level retail or service. They can obtain a job clerking at the local 7-11, for sure. But I don't know if they have much room to move into a job with real advancement prospects. I work in IT, for example. I won't comment on my employer at all, but let us say that I would be surprised to see any of my competitors suddenly hiring a 30-year-old adjunct history teacher.
posted by tyllwin at 3:42 PM on May 10, 2012


What societal model could be promoted that will allow the greatest possible quality of life for the largest amount of people while also allowing for an adequate study of non-essential skills?

Well, I can't speak to broader societal trends, but I think the best available solution to this particular problem is establishing and maintaining a robust network of large public universities funded primarily from tax money, rather than from tuition or private donations. It seems to work well for everyone who's currently doing it, and it worked great for us when we were doing it ourselves.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:42 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Am I the only person who viewed this as a success story? PhD in an esoteric field with no practical application is employed and receives necessities from society as a whole.

Clearly the food stamps are keeping her from reaching bottom.

Success or death.
posted by fleacircus at 3:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing like a FPP about humanity students to bring out the resident Internet Libertarian Programmers and Engineers Society. Will you guys please get over yourselves?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [32 favorites]


Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival.

Too bad you haven't learned anything about human history or you would know that humans have been creating art since the fucking dawn of mankind, and if you honestly think it's had no effect on the development of modern society then I pity your tragic lack of education and insight and understanding.

signed,

an engineer who actually finds a lot of art pretty tedious, all things considered
posted by elizardbits at 3:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


The market definitely wants scholarship and speech to be a privilege of the rich. The market, though, doesn't have our interests in mind. And, well, I think it's fair to say that the market is a moron, though one that can be remarkably useful when it is harnessed and guided away from its natural tendency toward selecting the wrong answers. Of course, harnessing it requires first acknowledging that it's too dumb to be left to its own devices.

Perhaps at some point you'll get around to providing evidence for these assertions.

There's a clear difference between aggregated human preferences weighted unevenly and the preferences of a single individual human. That the market is made from the actions of people doesn't mean the market is itself anthropomorphic. Claiming that it is is like claiming that a giant vat of Spam is a pig.

Then why did you do exactly that above...oh, never mind.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2012


Okay, so this is going to be kind of a weird argument, but here goes. People who finish PhDs are not representative of the general population. They're probably less suited to many non-academic jobs than the average person. Is there maybe some value in paying academics a living wage on the off chance they do something socially useful? I mean, historically, people have valued intellectual activity and occasionally it produces something genuinely useful. And, to be blunt, academics are pretty cheap.

If there are too few interested students, that might be one problem; we might indeed have an oversupply of such departments.*

You're assuming that medievalists are employed by medieval studies departments exclusively. I know a couple of PhD students doing German medieval stuff and their dream job listing is pretty much one looking specifically for a medievalist. But there are general listings in German as well, not just ones looking for medievalists. They're going to have to go on job interviews able to say "Why, yes, I could totally teach an awesome 19th century course." And the 19th century people are more employable if they can say they can teach medieval stuff.
posted by hoyland at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2012


Gonna repeat: we don't need to dismantle capitalism. We don't need to establish communism. We need to fund a robust system of higher education using funds from taxes. We need to do this to avoid being fucked.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


(where is the money going in medieval studies departments?)
Are you not following the argument? It's going AWAY.


The question is about what the money that does exist is being spent on. This is a perfectly legitimate inquiry.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:48 PM on May 10, 2012


But I don't know if they have much room to move into a job with real advancement prospects.

I think that many academics, especially those in fields completely unconnected to the Real Economy, have very little idea what businesses do and what kinds of people they're looking for.

For instance: every major consultancy has a research arm, and there are plenty of very wealthy companies who solely do research into business topics. I am a researcher at one such firm. The research process is very, very similar to work a humanities/liberal arts PhD might do. The subject matter is different, of course, but very little subject matter expertise is required to step into one of these jobs and get started. My firm hires PhDs and grad school refugees - including plenty of pure humanities scholars - at the upper five/lower six figures.

It's not just firms like mine - most jobs in business simply require intelligence; the actual knowledge can come later. But no one applies to them, and I think it's partially because they think those jobs are beneath them.
posted by downing street memo at 3:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's illogical to think that medieval history studies have much actual worth to 21st century students and society. It's nice to have, not need to have. It's a luxury.

Good point. As Santayana observed, "Those who cannot learn from history are sure to get along just fine."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [27 favorites]


The question is about what the money that does exist is being spent on. This is a perfectly legitimate inquiry.

From what I can tell, it's going to fund all the stuff that people want to have but don't want to pay for. Collectively, we have become allergic to taxes, but still expect that we can have public schools and road maintenance and jails and hospitals. Rather than going "Hey, how's about if everyone chips in a little bit so we can have more pie?" we go "In These Tough Economic Times, we all have to make sacrifices. Kids and poor people first!"
posted by rtha at 3:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


So, sorry to burst the snark bubble about "hobby degrees", but you know this is also a problem being faced by science and engineering professors, right? Every year, university funding gets chipped away at, grant money gets more and more scarce, budgets get turned away from teaching and research and towards administrative costs and programs like athletics, which are seen as the real moneymakers for the school. You're lucky if you can even land a tenure-track job, instead of being stuck in adjunct hell.

So, a lot of people leave academia, because it's the "smart" thing to do. If you have a STEM degree, you leave for industry or military work or banking. If you have a social studies or humanities degree, it's generally lobbying or policy or administration of some sort. The only ones who stay are those who really see it as a calling, like miyabo upthread, or those who cling to the hope of eventually landing a plum faculty or admin position.

Snark all you want, but some of us think that a systematic brain drain--and that's what this amounts to--from academia to corporate/military-industrial interests is a genuine fucking issue.
posted by kagredon at 3:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [50 favorites]


Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival.

is countered with

if you honestly think it's had no effect on the development of modern society then...

How on Earth did you read that first sentence and interpret it the way you did?
posted by rocket88 at 3:57 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're assuming that medievalists are employed by medieval studies departments exclusively. I know a couple of PhD students doing German medieval stuff and their dream job listing is pretty much one looking specifically for a medievalist. But there are general listings in German as well, not just ones looking for medievalists. They're going to have to go on job interviews able to say "Why, yes, I could totally teach an awesome 19th century course." And the 19th century people are more employable if they can say they can teach medieval stuff.

Of course, but if they specialize in medieval history then that's where their contributions will have the greatest value. There's no reason for a college that's looking for a lecturer in 19th century German history to pay a large premium for the PhD in medieval studies that a candidate might have. All things being equal, one might well prefer a PhD holder over someone with just an MA because the PhD holder has demonstrated a certain level of intellectual ability*, but that's clearly not worth as much as the application of the domain-specific expertise would be.

* of course, one might argue that the non PhD holder has greater economic insight or is limited in his/her ability to take on even more debt and should not be discriminated against on either of those grounds...
posted by anigbrowl at 3:58 PM on May 10, 2012


elizardbits You made my point for me. Art has always been here, and will always be here regardless of how much society funds it. It is not a necessity to life the same way that if we don't fund infrastructure people will literally die.

signed, and Engineer who actually loves art, history, and philosophy
posted by karmiolz at 3:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The other thing that springs to mind is that people tend to gravitate to jobs that allow them not to starve to death. If teaching post-secondary students nets a wage somewhere below working the counter at Burger King, what does that mean for the quality of education received by students who actually do seek out a formal education?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:01 PM on May 10, 2012


What actually happens, though, is that people with those majors believe themselves to be precious little flowers; they envision life in a leafy New England college town and a professorial blazer and Volvo. They couldn't possibly debase themselves by joining a company and working their way up.

Sounded appealing when I was 20. Still sounds appealing. I work in a cubicle.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:02 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


How on Earth did you read that first sentence and interpret it the way you did?

~*dark magicks*~
posted by elizardbits at 4:05 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The question is about what the money that does exist is being spent on. This is a perfectly legitimate inquiry.

From what I can tell, it's going to fund all the stuff that people want to have but don't want to pay for. Collectively, we have become allergic to taxes, but still expect that we can have public schools and road maintenance and jails and hospitals. Rather than going "Hey, how's about if everyone chips in a little bit so we can have more pie?" we go "In These Tough Economic Times, we all have to make sacrifices. Kids and poor people first!"


For crying out loud, can nobody give a straight answer to this question? Medieval history departments are, I presume, spending money on at least some of the following:

- tenured professors (a%)
- adjunct professors (b%)
- teaching assistants (c%)
- administrative staff (d%)
- library materials (e%)
- facilities (f%)
- collections of original material (g%)
- research (h%)
- symposia, journal publication etc. (i%)

If you're asking people to contribute more money to education, then it's not entirely unreasonable for them ask how it gets spent.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


you know this is also a problem being faced by science and engineering professors, right?

Spot on. And you forget that in STEM fields 1-2 postdocs are becoming the norm if you want to try for academia. So you spend 6+ years doing your degree, 6 years doing post docs, then if you're lucky you get a shot at a professorship where you have to kill yourself for 5 years to maybe get tenure.

And the best part is that once you've done those postdocs you're now "overqualified" to go to industry.

But we can go back to the typical MeFi circular firing squad rather than discussing the root issue here, that our society isn't investing in the future anymore.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [31 favorites]


To be frank, I don't even want to read the rest of the article after that.

To be honest, I stopped at:

"I am not a welfare queen," says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.

c'mon. who is a "welfare queen." NO ONE, that's who.

I, too, also see no problem with receiving welfare. Isn't that what it's for?

And yet, John L. Hennessey, president of Stanford, earns $619,000 a year from his job

And yet, John Calipari, a basketball coach for University of Kentucky, makes $5.2 million per year and rising, not even counting the shoe and advertising contracts. His 3 assistants together make about $750,000 per year.

And check the comments at the Herald-Leader. When someone stands up to complain about academic budget getting slashed, they are shouted down by commenters who complain that tenured professors are the problem and that athletics brings in all the money.

...



That's all, folks. I'm outta here.

.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


More people are paying more money for a college education. Fewer people are working for less money to provide that college education. The money has to go some place and the answer is that it's going everywhere else.
posted by I Foody at 4:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


karmiolz, But isn't Elizardbits point that the world would be an EVEN BETTER place if there were more people contributing to the history of art, and our understanding of the humanities? Wouldn't our society better if we funded more artists and scholars? For example, if Emperor Joseph II had supported Mozart for longer just think of how many more wonderful symphonies and operas we would have, instead of letting Mozart die an early death in a pauper's grave.
posted by geryon at 4:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


One must always be cautious when one has accidentally made the right choice not to assume they made the intelligent and obvious choice; had the world spun a different way the millionaire history professors may have been sneering at the broke computer scientists for glutting a nowhere profession.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


But, the key difference is: academics have high levels of human capital and almost surely could put their thinking skills to use elsewhere; for cultural reasons, they (by and large) refuse to do it.

I disagree. I left the academic track and am happily employed (or as happy as anyone can be who isn't a paid ice cream taster, at least); I work with a bunch of people who also left the academic track at various stages of the process. I know several people who left tenure-track (and in one case, tenured) positions because they decided they wanted to follow a different path. I think those kinds of movements are a lot more common than this discussion gives credit for.

For instance: every major consultancy has a research arm, and there are plenty of very wealthy companies who solely do research into business topics. I am a researcher at one such firm. The research process is very, very similar to work a humanities/liberal arts PhD might do. The subject matter is different, of course, but very little subject matter expertise is required to step into one of these jobs and get started. My firm hires PhDs and grad school refugees - including plenty of pure humanities scholars - at the upper five/lower six figures.

For curiosity's sake, could you point to an example of a position title or description for this kind of work?
posted by Forktine at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also: I know a guy who made $30 million from an IPO in the dot com bubble. A year or two after after the crash, I asked him what he planned to do with his career. "Oh, now I can afford to be a college professor!" he said, beaming.
posted by miyabo at 4:19 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival

Shoes, including high-heeled shoes, are in fact not vital to survival.

Fancy food, including delicious wine and beer, is not vital to survival. We could get by just fine on gruel and vitamin tablets.

Electricity is not vital to survival. Being able to read is not vital to survival. Padded furniture is not vital to survival. None of the engineering accomplishments of the past 100 years are vital to survival.

If you want to live in the mud gathering sticks for a living and eating nothing ever ever ever except boiled cassava, feel free to move to eastern DR Congo. Those of us in the modern world require seemingly "non-essential" amenities to make for a higher standard of living. This is in fact the driving force that makes the economy work in the first place. Those folks in DR Congo don't have any use for engineers, either.

The arts ARE, in fact, vital to a valuable modern life in the real world. If your only exposure to the arts is the big-titted babes in the background of your FPS in the basement, you might have trouble understanding that -- but even then, if you want your big-titted FPS babes to look somewhat real, you ought to be interested in the arts.

The question is about what the money that does exist is being spent on.

I told you, it's going away. College budgets are being destroyed. Tax revenues are at historical, in some cases 80-year, lows. We're just not paying for the things we NEED to be a civilization.
posted by Fnarf at 4:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


karmiolz: Actually engineers without art are still engineers. You want to talk about problem solving, learning how to think, how to accrue knowledge? Nothing will teach those skills like a STEM field. Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival.

I profoundly disagree with this statement. STEM programs are excellent about teaching you the STEM method of problem solving and critical thinking, but that absolutely does not mean STEM thinking is the only way of thinking. Believing that the STEM mindset is indeed the only (or best) way of thinking is what happens when you slash liberal arts programs. The STEM mindset is itself a historical product, a way of thinking that's been crafted and refined over time in response to a set of conflicts and situations. And, while STEM is awesome and great and responsible for some of the greatest elements of modern society, it is not without its own flaws. Oftentimes, those flaws are only evident when you're able to step outside the STEM framework and see something from a different perspective.

Many engineers (to use your example) without a liberal arts background, especially without some experience in history, have a hard time figuring out how to step outside their own framework because they have never experienced thinking in a different way before. But engineers who have a healthy respect for history generally know that science doesn't always solve anything. Early twentieth century engineers thought they could build open pit mines with impunity, for example, and that's led to some massive environmental consequences. There's a good chance that an engineer without a liberal arts background looking at Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in Utah or the Berkeley Pit in Montana would conclude that those mines' engineers just didn't know enough, that we can avoid those mistakes today because if you just science! hard enough you can control most of the variables and avoid harmful effects of whatever project they're working on. But an engineer who's read books by historians and geographers and sociologists and anthropologists is likely to be far more humble, or at least more cautious. Because history teaches engineers that you can't plan for everything; you can't control all the variables; there will always be unintended consequences. We know because engineers and social planners and scientists tried it in the early twentieth century, and pretty much none of those schemes worked.

An engineer without a liberal arts background would say, "well of course you can't control every variable that's just common sense; we don't do things that way anymore" -- but they know that because their professors and mentors told them that. Because their professors and mentors learned from history. I love science with all my heart and I love my technology probably more than the average bear, even though I don't understand a lot of the consequences. But society has a lot of really difficult, complex problems today like climate change and and environmental toxins and the obesity crisis that are caused in part by the overzealous, relentlessly forward-looking STEM mindset. And it gives me pause when people very confidently say that better science will solve these problems, when it was problematic applications of science that helped cause these problems in the first place. It makes me think those people didn't take their liberal arts classes very seriously, and it worries me very deeply. Engineers without a few serious liberal arts classes under their belts might still be engineers, but they're probably pretty dangerous ones.
posted by lilac girl at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [23 favorites]


The continued evisceration of state education budgets is the obvious elephant in the room, as many have noted, but there also needs to be a separation between teaching faculty positions and research faculty positions. At the top 25 phd program that I dropped out of, I can count the number of fellow students that I knew who will contribute original philosophical research that will advance the field in some relevant way on two fingers. But pretty well everyone I met there is capable of teaching lower to mid level undergraduate courses. And there's little correlation between those who are better at original research and those who are better at teaching, and there is zero institutional support for improving your teaching as a graduate student. There should be terminal teaching M.A.s in most fields, where people can drop the pretense of doing original research and be judged on their teaching and mastery of the relevant literature. If there were a clear path for that I might well have done it. It would save time and money for everyone, and it will be easier for those people to organize and demand better working conditions. And the researchers don't have to pretend to be interested in teaching the theory of forms to sleepy 18 year olds.

I think that this is actually what is happening but the process isn't being well-managed by universities and is unnecessarily painful for everyone.

I'm pretty sure I've made close to this exact comment on Metafilter before.
posted by Kwine at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival

Go Tiger Mom.
posted by polymodus at 4:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl: "For crying out loud, can nobody give a straight answer to this question? Medieval history departments are, I presume, spending money on at least some of the following:

- tenured professors (a%)
- adjunct professors (b%)
- teaching assistants (c%)
- administrative staff (d%)
- library materials (e%)
- facilities (f%)
- collections of original material (g%)
- research (h%)
- symposia, journal publication etc. (i%)


I don't think you're going to get an answer to that question unless someone who happens to work in the budget office of a university stops by, because the specific amounts of the budget assigned to various things aren't exactly common knowledge. Also, I don't think anywhere has a specific "medieval history" department. They have a history department and professors who specialize in areas of history that overlap with the medieval period, but their budget will be indistinguishable from the history department budget. Finally, many of the items you listed wouldn't even be in a specific academic department's budget, but would instead be in, for example, the library's budget, or the university's overall operations budget.

In other words, this is not an answerable question.
posted by Copronymus at 4:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


annotating literature from another century, or learning how to balance a checkbook?

Well, given most of my peer group only uses cheques to pay fixed monthly things like rent, or one time things like paying a friend your share pf the camping trip gas, and most of the other financial things are increasingly handled by automatically self totalling interac/online banking services, while Bronte, Stoker and Austen are all easy grabs for the Kindle...
posted by Phalene at 4:35 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's my point - you don't have to be good at computer science to earn a living: you just have to be decent at it.

But every time there's a thread about how people with skills in computer science and other math/engineering fields can't find jobs, we invariably hear about how this is because 90 percent of engineers are just not very good at what they do; they don't have the passion or the drive, they're not Rock Stars or Ninjas or Great Hackers. So which is it -- 90 percent of people in STEM fields currently aren't good enough to deserve to earn a living, or it's a great idea to bring in people who will be even more mediocre because their talents and interests lie in medieval history?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


geryon I can name how many symphonies would have saved lives, toppled despots, cured diseases, reached new planets, and furthered human rights. Big fat 0. Once again, we are not talking bout the enjoyment we get from the arts,we are talking about the fact that when budgets get tight, we look to things like the humanities to slash because they are not vital.
posted by karmiolz at 4:42 PM on May 10, 2012


Public colleges and universities are simply the leading edge of what all government bodies in the US will experience: the need to do (more or less) the same for much less money, because all those things will need to be funded out of the same pool of taxing and borrowing capacity that will also have to fund 30 to 40 years of Baby Boomer retirement income and health care (retired civil servants for the state and local governments, every Social Security and Medicare beneficiary for the feds).

Every government agency will need to find its analogs to the public college and university conversion of tenure track positions to adjuncts. We're probably in the last few years of the notion of the "good civil service" job -- well-paying government jobs will become as hard to get as good paying private sector jobs, and lower-skill government jobs will no longer be any better paid than jobs in the private sector which demand equivalent skill.

I do think that the extremes of the adjuncting situation will ease somewhat, simply because PhD candidates will start getting a clue about the long-term economics, and departments will start to develop a conscience about permitting as many bad-prospects candidates to enroll as they now do. There will be an equilibrium somewhat kinder than $20k a year without benefits for (effectively) full load teaching.
posted by MattD at 4:43 PM on May 10, 2012


If you're asking people to contribute more money to education, then it's not entirely unreasonable for them ask how it gets spent.

This information in a generalized format is available for an non-profit higher education in the form of a 990, which will also include where the funds are coming from. As far as department by department, outside of the department's budget manager, the finance department, and any boards which approve budgets, this information is a level of detail I've rarely ever seen requested, and that was by a donor funding a specific department.

Also, the administrative staff and facilities are most likely allocated to the department. Depending on the sort of collection you are looking at, it might be an asset rather than an expense, and considered an actual collection.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 4:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can name how many symphonies would have saved lives, toppled despots, cured diseases, reached new planets, and furthered human rights. Big fat 0.

Viva Verdi.
posted by The World Famous at 4:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


complex problems today like climate change and and environmental toxins and the obesity crisis that are caused in part by the overzealous, relentlessly forward-looking STEM mindset. And it gives me pause when people very confidently say that better science will solve these problems, when it was problematic applications of science that helped cause these problems in the first place

Blah. What's the LA solution to a complex problem? Literary analysis? PostModern deconstructionism? Contextual sovietism? Meta linguistic foundational wordism? These things aren't actual knowledge, just empty BS.

The misuse of science isn't the fault of science. All it does is amplify the humanities capabilites, for good or ill.

And to those of you that say that "science isn't necessary"...well only if you first eliminate about 80% of the current human population. Low tech subsistence farming just doesn't produce much surplus.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you want to live in the mud gathering sticks for a living and eating nothing ever ever ever except boiled cassava, feel free to move to eastern DR Congo. Those of us in the modern world require seemingly "non-essential" amenities to make for a higher standard of living. This is in fact the driving force that makes the economy work in the first place. Those folks in DR Congo don't have any use for engineers, either.

Just as an aside, people living in the DRC right now ... are also living in the modern world. Many of them eat things that are not boiled cassava, and have amenities to make life liveable. And they probably could very much use engineers. Maybe drawing on weird, untrue stereotypes isn't the best way to make your case?

posted by ChuraChura at 4:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


But, the key difference is: academics have high levels of human capital and almost surely could put their thinking skills to use elsewhere; for cultural reasons, they (by and large) refuse to do it.

So let's say that I had a bunch of links to:
  • The e-mail addresses of a bunch of science PhD's I know who were given a kiss off by the business majors of a major "science" company.
  • Investor propaganda explaining why slowly grinding away at the headcount of their research department (and the enthusiasm of all who remain) to seek "the best external science."
  • More investor propaganda talking about the next big thing that alleged science company has in the works and how big it's going to be (what previous big thing that died like a dog in clinical efficacy studies?).
  • A simple explanation based purely on the well known physics of binding kinetics that explains why the next big thing is pretty much going to suck wind in the efficacy phase of clinical testing.

    Which of the following would you do?:
  • Check your 401K and do some "rebalancing".
  • Accept that the problem is not just limited to academia or the humanities.
  • Accept that a person with an MBA might not be the very best person to have calling the shots in many situations.
  • Accept that being well rounded is probably a strong survival trait in a complex world.
  • All of the above.

  • posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I'm not so sure about the whole idea of suggesting that CS/IT is such a great field. People in Eastern Europe with more experience will do it for half the price. You are competing directly with entry level in India who are much cheaper. From what I see, CS/IT jobs are not such easy pickings that people can just breeze into them.
    posted by tyllwin at 4:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


    What's the LA solution to a complex problem?

    Are you denying the role of literature in world history, politics, government, and civilization? Or are you just ignorant of it?
    posted by The World Famous at 4:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    lilac girl Who exactly solves the problems like open pit mining? That's right, other engineers. Also, the problem solving in STEM fields is no just about solving a problem in a book. It's about having a set of tools to apply to a real world problem with no specific answer. It's also about having n insanely difficult workload by shear volume alone and learning hwo to manage your time and finances.
    posted by karmiolz at 4:47 PM on May 10, 2012


    Show me one person who can accurately value a field of knowledge's future contributions to society and I'll show you a huge liar.

    Well we had some historians that could tell us about the specific contributions of specific fields of knowledge in specific societies, but unfortunately they quit and are currently managing at McDonald's.


    OK, I admit that's pretty funny. But we were talking future contributions, and most historians only know about the past. Hindsight does not necessarily imply foresight.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:49 PM on May 10, 2012


    Hindsight does not necessarily imply foresight.

    Yet lack of hindsight does necessarily imply lack of foresight. Interesting.
    posted by The World Famous at 4:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]



    "The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own." -- Goethe
    posted by the hot hot side of randy at 4:52 PM on May 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


    The World Famous I wouldn't agree with that at all.
    posted by karmiolz at 4:52 PM on May 10, 2012


    Who exactly solves the problems like open pit mining? That's right, other engineers.

    who defines them as problems? - that's the REAL question you should be asking - hint - it's often not engineers or scientists

    after all, where does the underlying philosophy that an open pit mine is an awful thing come from? - that looking at it is a loathsome and disgusting experience?

    isn't that an artistic response?
    posted by pyramid termite at 4:53 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Are you denying the role of literature in world history, politics, government, and civilization?

    Like how the contextual framework of continuity in Odysseus's hairstyle as portrayed by 19th century scholars impacts modern Greece's dealing with other EU nations during the global financial crisis?

    But basically I'm just refighting the science wars of the 90's. Because those issues are still present.
    posted by Chekhovian at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2012


    The World Famous I wouldn't agree with that at all.

    Why?
    posted by The World Famous at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2012


    FWIW, I have a theatre BA and MFA and I'm making a close to 6-figure salary in (private school) arts education.

    Conversely, I have a close friend who majored in business who has spent most of the last six years unemployed and looking for work.

    If we're going to base our arguments on the relative value of degrees on anecdotal examples of people who we know or have read about, I know like six lawyers who left law to get theatre degrees (and are making more money and are happier in theatre). I also know one computer engineer who left that field when he was thirty and has spent the last twenty years involved in the arts.

    So, based entirely on my personal anecdotal evidence, theatre degrees trump law, computer science and business degrees. I think my fallacious argument is probably about as accurate as anybody else's fallacious argument, so I'm just going to state that it is a fact that a theatre degree will get you farther in life.

    ---

    Having made that hasty generalization that hopefully trumps everyone else's hasty generalization because of its undebatable truth, the point of the article - that many professors are not being paid fairly - is a painful reflection of a number of things that have gone wrong in our society in the last twenty years.

    There's no one simple answer to the problem or one single source, but one of the many issues that led to this is that decisions are being made about state universities by politicians who often don't have the slightest clue regarding how education works. Much like how many of us commenting here firmly believe we know which degrees are valuable or how money should be allotted based on our personal experiences, politicians make decision based on their myopic experiences with university life.

    To whit, we don't want to bother to read the dissertations, but we have no problem dismissing them as useless based on descriptions of the abstracts.

    There's a much, much bigger picture.
    posted by Joey Michaels at 4:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Actually I will say this: Liberal Arts types are incredible BS artists with fantastic political awareness. But they're easily intimidated by mathey sounding things.
    posted by Chekhovian at 4:55 PM on May 10, 2012


    Well, let's step through it discipline by discipline:

    Say the only respected viewpoints on literature are those of the rich. This may not lead to deaths, though I think it's likely that literature as a whole will come to flatter the rich and ignore others.

    Say the only respected viewpoints on philosophy are those of the rich. Maybe it won't lead to deaths, maybe, though I can see more than a couple of ways it could result in deep badness.

    Say the only respected viewpoints on history are those of the rich. It may not lead to deaths, directly, but it may mean that bits of the historical record that flatter the rich will get more attention than parts that don't, which could lead to remarkably poor decision making.

    Say the only respected viewpoints on economics are those of the rich...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Of course, if we pay scholars more money, they may become the rich, making that scenario come true. Hmm.
    posted by The World Famous at 4:58 PM on May 10, 2012


    Foresight without extensive study of the past is often defined as common sense The World Famous
    posted by karmiolz at 4:58 PM on May 10, 2012


    It's also possible that a power dynamic results in someone's invisible thumb on the scales. To use an example from history, the "worth" of the French nobility vs the "worth" of the populace, and the "worth" of the Cossacks vs the "worth" of the peasants was not cleanly determined by an invisible hand.

    I agree with this absolutely. If you're talking about redistributing wealth, I am right behind you. But why should wealth redistribution go to the academic elite when there are so many worthier causes? I find it hard to justify why we would want to give more people $100k salaries for being knowledgable about Chaucer when there are so many underfunded social programs for people who actually made realistic life choices and are suffering from sheer bad luck. It may be arrogant of me to say that these PhDs don't deserve more money, but if so, it's equally arrogant of other people do say that they do, because there's not a limitless supply of resources - the wealth you want to give these academics comes from other real human beings.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    karmiolz, But isn't Elizardbits point that the world would be an EVEN BETTER place if there were more people contributing to the history of art, and our understanding of the humanities? Wouldn't our society better if we funded more artists and scholars?

    Very likely, but not necessarily. Suppose we devoted all our social wealth to scholarship and artistry; then we'd suffer from a shortage of engineers, consulting physicians, nurses and so on. That's obviously not realistic: it just highlights the fact that we need a wider variety of professions to function as a society. So in between having too many people doing something and too few, there must be some optimal number, and it isn't hotile to scholarship or the arts to investigate what that is.

    The US education system confers about 1000 new history PhDs every year (source). It appears that for most of the last 40 years there are fewer jobs openings for historians that there are doctorates conferred. Thus, the supply of historians over the long run consistently exceeds the demand. Why? The final graph at th same link tells the story: from the 70s until around 2000, the number of professors near retirement (degree earned 30+ years previously) increased from ~5% to ~20%, and it has stayed around 20% ever since. Furthermore, the current recession in academic history hiring comes following a decade of growth that saw history departments growing. Most of those hiring benefits went to older historians, however; hiring of junior faculty staff has been in decline since the year 2000. So at least part of the problem here seems to be a seniority system.

    For example, if Emperor Joseph II had supported Mozart for longer just think of how many more wonderful symphonies and operas we would have, instead of letting Mozart die an early death in a pauper's grave.

    Just because you have a cheap funeral doesn't mean you died from poverty. The available evidence, coupled with the primitive state of medicine at the time, suggests Mozart was just somewhat unlucky.
    posted by anigbrowl at 4:59 PM on May 10, 2012


    Pyramid Termites I would say environmental/atmospheric/life scientists do a good job of defining the problems. Abhorring the fact that people are dying from our actions, species becoming extinct, the very planet upon which we depend being depleted and destroyed is not the domain of art alone.
    posted by karmiolz at 5:00 PM on May 10, 2012


    Try thinking of the humanities as overhead, karmiolz.

    Would you want to go into a STEM problem without knowing about the previous blind alleys that have been tried? Without learning about why certain safety measures have been deemed prudent? History, and to a lesser extent literature, are those records of previous trials.

    Does it seem more valuable if we talk specifically about the history of Northern Ireland? Of the Sunni and the Shiia? Of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan? Do we just trust that engineering will guide us and we don't need to understand that fuzzy stuff?
    posted by tyllwin at 5:01 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    tyllwin: "I'm not so sure about the whole idea of suggesting that CS/IT is such a great field. People in Eastern Europe with more experience will do it for half the price. You are competing directly with entry level in India who are much cheaper. From what I see, CS/IT jobs are not such easy pickings that people can just breeze into them."

    This is the other thing that's frustrating about this conversation. It's hard everywhere in every field for people to get jobs, even doing things they don't like all that much and let alone something they're passionate about. 10 years ago these same people would have been telling new graduates to go to law school, and I think we all see where that went. There is no magic bullet degree that will guarantee a life of ease, or even one that makes it likely that you'll get a good job coming out of college. I know it's fun and reassuring to point and laugh at people who committed the unforgivable sin of getting degrees in fields that are difficult to monetize and currently out of vogue, but the pointing and laughing and telling them to just get a degree in CS isn't particularly helpful, not least when these people do, in fact, have full-time jobs in academia. In a world where universities weren't cribbing staffing policies from Wal-Mart, this article probably wouldn't exist.
    posted by Copronymus at 5:02 PM on May 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


    It's hard everywhere in every field for people to get jobs

    Here's a remarkably stupid Friedman article on this issue: Average is Over
    posted by Chekhovian at 5:07 PM on May 10, 2012


    I would say environmental/atmospheric/life scientists do a good job of defining the problems.

    which misses the point of why they are seen as problems at all - don't you need a philosophy of life that is informed by some inheritance from the humanities to look at something and say, "this is bad - we should try to solve it"

    as any serious student of history would tell you, "the fact that people are dying from our actions, species becoming extinct," has hardly stopped people from killing each other and other species - neither has exposure to great art, for that matter

    but my point is that society and life is not some kind of problem to be solved by engineers alone - in fact, the engineers tend to do what their employers tell them to do, don't they?

    again, it's not who solves the problems - it's who gets to define them in the first place
    posted by pyramid termite at 5:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    tyllwin The fuzzy stuff can indeed be understood by scientists and engineers as well. I am not saying ignore the humanities, just the fact that someone teaching at a community college in an esoteric field requires, and gets, government assistance does not a crisis make. Look at the number of academics employed, are we really suffering a dearth of humanities?
    posted by karmiolz at 5:11 PM on May 10, 2012


    It seems to me that the people who are saying "get the right degree" are completely missing the boat. It doesn't matter which degrees pay better, if someone is hired to teach, they should be making a living wage. If she's making something like $1200/month (the article says $900 take home) and working 20 hr/week, she's making about $15/hr.

    Now that might be close to a living wage (barely) if she were working full time, but the budget slashing that's been going on doesn't allow the community colleges to hire full-time people. My guess, is they're also not paying benefits to part-timers, which is also a pretty horrible way to treat the people who are educating the next generation.
    posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Arts vs Sciences, part 22 of a series on Metafilter, joy.

    Anyway, I thought that Confessions of a Community College Dean did a pretty good writeup on this. Also, the comments point to the fact that for PhDs, STEM fields are no panacea either. I think the choice of the person for the article is a bit inflammatory, as the comments here show They could have easily gotten some biology adjunct to show the point just as well.
    posted by zabuni at 5:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I am not saying ignore the humanities, just the fact that someone teaching at a community college in an esoteric field requires, and gets, government assistance does not a crisis make.

    actually, the fact that anyone, no matter what they do for a living, requires government assistance IS a crisis - it's proof that our system isn't working
    posted by pyramid termite at 5:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    are we really suffering a dearth of humanities?

    I'm always eager to join the anti-humanities pile on, but it does distract from the real point here, the huge underinvestment in education in general.
    posted by Chekhovian at 5:15 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    >It's hard everywhere in every field for people to get jobs

    Here's a remarkably stupid Friedman article on this issue: Average is Over


    I thought the article was remarkable because, for once, Friedman wrote something that made sense.
    posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on May 10, 2012


    (The question is about what the money that does exist is being spent on.)

    I told you, it's going away. College budgets are being destroyed. Tax revenues are at historical, in some cases 80-year, lows. We're just not paying for the things we NEED to be a civilization.


    It's OK to say you don't know the answer, you know.

    This information in a generalized format is available for an non-profit higher education in the form of a 990, which will also include where the funds are coming from. As far as department by department, outside of the department's budget manager, the finance department, and any boards which approve budgets, this information is a level of detail I've rarely ever seen requested, and that was by a donor funding a specific department.

    True that. I remember looking through the UC annual budget a few years ago, and being intensely annoyed with how dense it was. I can't help thinking that part of the reason funding is under pressure is because administrators seem unable or unwilling to provide straightforward answers to the public on this.

    after all, where does the underlying philosophy that an open pit mine is an awful thing come from? - that looking at it is a loathsome and disgusting experience?

    isn't that an artistic response?


    I'm willing to bet that it has a lot more to do with biology departments answering the questions of nearby agriculturalists about why their crops won't grow or their livestock are diseased, or studying cancer clusters in the vicinity of such mines.

    which misses the point of why they are seen as problems at all - don't you need a philosophy of life that is informed by some inheritance from the humanities to look at something and say, "this is bad - we should try to solve it"

    If I start coughing up blood or my crops won't grow, I'm likely to form an opinion about the quality of my situation without outside help. Indeed, it might be just as well for me if I steered clear of stoicism until later.
    posted by anigbrowl at 5:18 PM on May 10, 2012


    I know that people REALLY like having conversations about how THEY made the right choices, and everyone should make the choices they made. The thing is, sometimes people are legitimately getting screwed by a system, and sometimes these people do jobs that legitimately benefit all of society.

    So why don't we actually discuss that?


    Well, also, if everyone got a CS degree the job market for that would be greatly diluted, it would not be such a lucrative field, and people would be calling CS a hobby degree. Honestly, just judging by the CS people I know, even though it usually pays well CS seems to be the biggest hobby degree there is.

    If everyone gets a CS/engineering/similar degree we will still have the same problem. We need diverse credentials and a diverse work force. A specialized degree is not even necessary for a lot of jobs out there - that's why so many jobs "require a bachelors (or now, masters) degree" but it doesn't even matter what field it's in.

    I think there is already an engineering/CS bubble, it just hasn't yet burst.
    posted by fromageball at 5:20 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    for once, Friedman wrote something that made sense

    Yeah, that's the painful part. Its sort of true on a microscale, but its clearly not a good way to organize a society. Its like there's a conversation of Friedman stupidity law, if part of his point is anywhere remotely sensible, then it has to embedded in an even larger morass of stupidity.
    posted by Chekhovian at 5:20 PM on May 10, 2012


    So, sorry to burst the snark bubble about "hobby degrees", but you know this is also a problem being faced by science and engineering professors, right?

    To continue on this, when I was in CS grad school and hung out with friends in Biology, they talked about grant funding. A grant application would be scored on a 0 to 100 scale, and then the funding agencies would fund the selected grants above a certain cutoff.

    At the time, the cutoff was 97. And it was not easy to get this score. One professor I spoke to about this said that the only way to play the game, since you needed reliable funding to pay for your grad students and post-docs (and staff, if you have any), was to propose research you had already done and were sure of but had not yet published, because that was the level of certainty required to get a 97 score.

    Then, you could take the money, turn in the (already done) work on time, and use the funds to pursue work that might lead to your next grant.

    -------------

    "Hobby degrees"

    Some of you here are old enough to remember when programming was a hobby, like ham radio and D&D. OK, some people got paid for it, but most of us? We were dinking away on our toy machines, because we loved to dink away and learn about this obscure thing.

    Fortune shone on us and what we loved to do became a lucrative vocation for some. A hobby that paid.

    When you're about to take a huge dump on the humanities in this discussion, remember this: those scientists and mathematicians who made your hobby possible came from schools and cultures that valued the arts and the sciences. You may be good at C, but they are the gods who created the entire domain within which you find your vocation, and they could do so because they had minds that were broad as well as deep.
    posted by zippy at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [39 favorites]


    Calling people in humanities gods might be a bit of a stretch.

    The thing you describe with grants is called a "loss leader" in business. Academics having the same sort of uncertainty in earning their livelihood that the rest of the world needs to deal with does not seem like such a terrible thing to me, especially when some of them can look forward to things like tenure - a job situation that few other professions can expect.
    posted by XMLicious at 5:44 PM on May 10, 2012


    Academics having the same sort of uncertainty in earning their livelihood that the rest of the world needs to deal with does not seem like such a terrible thing to me

    Dude, this is the sort of lowering of the bar that reminds me of last year's Wisconsin-esque "well, I don't have insurance in my private sector job so why should public workers have insurance?"

    Instead of working to make things equally miserable for everyone, shouldn't we be working towards making things better for everyone? And if we can't make things better for everyone, is making things worse for others really of benefit to society?
    posted by Joey Michaels at 5:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


    Young Renton noticed the haste with which the successful, in the sexual sphere as in all others, segregated themselves from the failures.

    As always, academic choices will be where the normally liberal mefites turn into social Darwinians. Well, not all of them, mainly just the CS majors.

    Meyers-Briggs has been mentioned up above and while that particular rubric is fairly psuedo-scientific I'm finding a lot of truth in it right now. Mainly in that those who are most suited for CS are also those least suited to empathy. I'm not trying to shit on CS. Right now, it's a great field to have a background in. Trouble is, that's been said about a lot of fields, and people like myself end up getting fucked by them.

    I got my BFA in Film and TV Production from the best film school in the world. After knocking around and not making what I thought to be a steady-enough career out of it, I did the "sensible" thing, I went to law school. My best friend was in his 1L year, and discussing the things he was learning about fascinated me. I'd done extensive aptitude testing in my teens, which said I'd be great at a legal career. I got 99th percentile LSAT scores, and got into a T14 program. I was looking at getting married at the time. This was the sensible thing.

    And then, just as I was starting on my JD, the market collapsed. The past five years have been a nightmare of sunken costs, because you never know when things might recover. I've been talking to a lot of people today, after two years of mostly unemployment. My BFA is now, it seems, more valuable than my JD. Heh.

    CS will see itself burst in the next ten to twenty years. It's riding the last wave of star-struck investors who don't understand the subject and who are placing their faith in laughable business models. I hope that when that happens I won't be laughing at the kids who invested their futures in aspirations to middle-classdom.

    But success+hindsight is a potent combo, so enjoy y'all's party.

    A few more thoughts, some more directly relevant than others:

    1. Universities are one of the few things left that the U.S. does better than anywhere else. The greatest minds the world over flock to mostly American schools. But our current models, both public and private, are destroying that through short-sightedness. While manufacturing and everything else gets outsourced, this is something the U.S. still has, but we're using disastrous business models, creating mass disparity between the professors and administrators while tuition costs keep rising. This, of all things, is clearly not sustainable, and will end badly.

    2. It's been said many times upthread, but apparently needs to keep being said. Ph.D's are people who have trained to teach their subject at the highest level. The people we're discussing (as per the article) have jobs teaching their subjects. It's just that their salaries are being dramatically shrunk. Not because of a lack of students or tuition, but because the administrators can. And how cynical do you have to be to see the Powers That Be raising their own salaries, raising tuition, lowering professor salaries to sub-poverty level, and say, "well! free market at work!" It isn't. It's the exploitation of the powerful against the powerless. Wait a minute, that's exactly how the free market works. Nevermind.

    3. This is pretty-much neither here nor there, but I find it odd that PhD programs neither (or at least don't normally) have nor require course in public speaking and other necessary teaching techniques. It seems like something the candidates could benefit from, as could their future students. Just crazy to me that the basic methods of teaching wouldn't be standard curriculum.
    posted by Navelgazer at 5:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


    The people we're discussing (as per the article) have jobs teaching their subjects. It's just that their salaries are being dramatically shrunk. Not because of a lack of students or tuition, but because the administrators can. And how cynical do you have to be to see the Powers That Be raising their own salaries, raising tuition, lowering professor salaries to sub-poverty level, and say, "well! free market at work!" It isn't. It's the exploitation of the powerful against the powerless. Wait a minute, that's exactly how the free market works. Nevermind.

    This would be a plausible narrative of events if, IF, it weren't happening at literally every university in the country.
    posted by downing street memo at 5:56 PM on May 10, 2012


    CS will see itself burst in the next ten to twenty years. It's riding the last wave of star-struck investors who don't understand the subject and who are placing their faith in laughable business models. I hope that when that happens I won't be laughing at the kids who invested their futures in aspirations to middle-classdom.

    As a former programmer, I remember the dot.com era and how the market DID burst. Things got very Darwinian for a while there. I had trouble getting by from time to time (I even thought I might be homeless at one point). But at no point did I ever whine "I had a CS major; something is wrong with society when a CS major is having such a hard time finding work."

    To get by in such a hard environment, I diversified my skillset. I had taken some German classes eight years ago, so I bought a dictionary and taught myself German well enough to pass a phone interview so that I could get a consulting gig. Later, I used the time I had programmed accounting software to leverage a job in an IT finance department. It wasn't glamorous (and my salary is relatively low), but the point is, I'm getting by through my own initiative. When I saw the market wasn't adapting to my idea of what it should value, I changed myself to adapt to it - I didn't complain about the world "undervaluing my skills." These PhD humanities students are doing exactly the opposite - they can clearly see the dead-end in front of them, yet they're too proud or shortsighted to change. How can we be expected to take them seriously or give them any respect?
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:04 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I'll admit I've only made my way about a quarter of the way down this thread, but here are a few thoughts:

    - I taught public high school. Every goddamned person in my department, ages 25-43, were being somehow subsidized by his or her parents. All the singles except me had at least three roommates (living alone was so important to me that I cut my spending significantly in other areas to make this possible). Teaching public high school, in San Francisco at least, is BARELY subsistence living. Always near the highest cost of living in the US, and 2nd lowest salary when adjusted for cost of living, when I was doing it at least. Oh, and we got laid off ever summer prior to tenure, regardless of our evaluations, because the district couldn't promise it would have the funding to hire us back in August. I never knew for sure whether or not I had a job until three days before the first day of school, despite the highest possible evaluations. Until I finally got tenure, that is. (At which case I quit due to burn out.)

    - Teaching well is HARD, so please can we stop talking about it like it's some kind of throwaway job that anyone off the street can do without proper training? Like law and medicine, it's a practice. Just because you know a subject well enough to get a PhD does NOT mean you will be a capable or even competent teacher. (Witness the crappy education profs I've had from undergrad through grad school; each of those crappy profs (mostly) knew their subject but didn't know shit about effective pedagogy.)

    And hell yes art has saved lives. The right music at the right time has probably saved my life more times than I care to think about when I've been in a deep depression. I know it's easy to kick the Humanities kid because s/he's scrawny and doesn't have a lot of grant money to spend.

    Unless we pump a crapton more money into education and social support services, many folks who are not naturally STEM-focused will bootstrap themselves into such fields. It won't happen. Humanities might not be profitable, but dammit if they don't make life richer and more bearable for some of us. As others have said, the US is defunding ALL of its infrastructure because of this war on taxation. This is a symptom of that, and it will hurt us in the long term. I am not optimistic.

    Sorry for the rant.
    posted by smirkette at 6:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


    The only conclusion we can draw from this thread is every major's terrible.
    posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Instead of working to make things equally miserable for everyone, shouldn't we be working towards making things better for everyone? And if we can't make things better for everyone, is making things worse for others really of benefit to society?

    Someone, somewhere has to take financial risks. I do not think that the solution to these problems is to guarantee prosperity for some people and let others take the risks.

    This is actually one of the basic problems - the 1%ers have leverage that allows them to guarantee their part of the pie but force the risk-taking onto everyone else or the public trust.
    posted by XMLicious at 6:13 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Take risks...

    This isn't the fucking middle ages. We have plenty of food and too much shelter.
    posted by Chekhovian at 6:21 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    2. It's been said many times upthread, but apparently needs to keep being said. Ph.D's are people who have trained to teach their subject at the highest level. The people we're discussing (as per the article) have jobs teaching their subjects. It's just that their salaries are being dramatically shrunk. Not because of a lack of students or tuition, but because the administrators can.

    Well, I showed above how the number of senior faculty - who presumably cost more to keep on payroll - has quadrupled in the last 40 years, and how the number of openings for junior faculty actually shrank in the 2000s despite significant increases in department sizes (all this in relation to history departments, but that's what the original article was about).


    So at least part of the problem is the increase in the ratio of senior to junior academics. In any competition for resources, the senior academics are likely to have a significant advantage over the junior ones because of both a) their superior academic standing and b) their greater experience of academic politics. At least within the field of history, the data show that the field expanded but that the benefits were disproportionately captured by older professors at the expense of younger ones.

    And how cynical do you have to be to see the Powers That Be raising their own salaries, raising tuition, lowering professor salaries to sub-poverty level, and say, "well! free market at work!" It isn't. It's the exploitation of the powerful against the powerless. Wait a minute, that's exactly how the free market works. Nevermind.

    I'm sorry, why are you treating the entire professoriat as powerless here? At least some professors are very well paid indeed. Remember the general pile-on on Todd Henderson, the U. of Chicago Law prof who complained about having to live on a $250,000 salary? After all, for that money you could hire 3 adjuncts and pay them a decent $80k per annum.
    posted by anigbrowl at 6:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    We can't take risks anymore. Take a risk, fail, and end up with a $15/hr job that keeps you working as much as you can to make ends meet, and keeps you underinsured, and keeps you in substandard housing, and that keeps you in one place with no hope of labour mobility...
    posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    And then go bankrupt when you get suck and can't pay your medical bills
    posted by Chekhovian at 6:28 PM on May 10, 2012


    I was really, really stunned to click over and find that the article starts off with the quote "I am not a welfare queen," and then tells us she's white and has a Ph.D.

    This is lazy and offensive. What is the argument here? I get that something's wrong when someone who's reached the highest degree in her field can't get a job that pays enough to cover basic needs. I do not get why it was necessary to make a racial comment or what the fact that she's white has to do with the situation, but the writer brings up a "stereotype of people receiving such aid" immediately. So would Chronicle readers think it unremarkable if a minority person with a Ph.D. were to be on welfare and food stamps? Come on. I just couldn't get past that.
    posted by citron at 6:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


    And then go bankrupt when you get suck and can't pay your medical bills.

    But that's at least fair because nobody else can pay their medical bills either!
    posted by Joey Michaels at 6:29 PM on May 10, 2012


    During the Cold War, Western capitalism was on its best behavior. It enlisted the arts and theoretical sciences in a show-fight against Communism. Just like animals will, instead of actually fighting each other to the death, engage in symbolic proofs of fitness that allow the weaker party to step down without an actual fight. Heck, for a while Americans even cared about the arcana of chess when it was the American boy Bobby Fisher against the Russians.

    But now we don't have that competition to keep us honest, and we are dismantling the system that worked so well.

    I'm sure some of you would be shocked or condescending towards the attitude, for example, of modernist composer Milton Babbitt, who wrote a famous essay, Who Cares if You Listen? But that came from another time. A time when industrialized countries had tax brackets as high as 95% (the infamous "one for you, nineteen for me" of The Beatles's "Tax Man".) An academic composer could have that smug attitude then, when the world was looking towards which Way of Life was superior, and saw Western capitalism land men on the Moon (as "useless" a task as teaching about medieval history) and excel both in erudite esoterica and infectious popular music full of real life.

    Yes, since then we've lost something. There's something new and deadening about post-Cold War capitalism in the midst of its success.
    posted by Schmucko at 6:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


    I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare and is not doing something to rectify the situation. Such as getting another job.

    No. Such as organize and go on strike. It's clear the universities have figured out how to sucker you into making them money for free, and that needs to stop. Demand your fair share. Organize or die.
    posted by Slap*Happy at 6:34 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


    I love that people opposed to funding schools in this thread have backed themselves into the corner of having to argue that:
    1. Culture isn't important, or
    2. Even if it is important, it doesn't matter enough to teach or study deeply, or
    3. Even if it matters enough to teach or study deeply, it doesn't matter that only the rich get to teach it or study it.
    I mean, culture. Seriously. Not high culture, not low culture, not middlebrow culture, but culture, generally. You know, the things that people do all day and why they do them. I guess that's no biggy...
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:35 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


    The New Faculty Majority welcomes you!
    posted by ChuraChura at 6:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I think that all of this is even up for debate on MetaFilter, which I would hazard is probably one of the better educated web communities, reveals that this disdain for non-science academia might be a huge deal. I should go dig in the data dump.
    posted by smirkette at 6:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Take a risk, fail, and end up with a $15/hr job that keeps you working as much as you can to make ends meet

    KokuRyu, this comment really highlights that you're Canadian -- for a lot of my ex-peers back in the States, $15/hr is far, far out of reach (and minimum wage is half that).

    hell, $15/hr is more than I got paid to teach comp. at my last gig...
    posted by junco at 6:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


    smirkette, I'd also say there are a few loud voices in any thread on this saying "humanities education is worthless". Those voices are loud and repetitive, and people who feel that humanities education is worthwhile lose interest or become demoralized and just stop commenting (that's certainly how I feel reading this). So the comments you find in the infodump will be skewed by that phenomenon.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 6:43 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Someone upthread commented on giving up on your dreams. Yes, that is to some extent a practical, economic choice that at this particular moment in the US, you need to make as student.

    I was a Creative Writing major. I made a conscious decision to take up software engineering-- despite my love for post WW2 American fiction. It was pretty clear by age 23 or 24 that I was not in fact, the second coming of David Foster Wallace, and that sticking to the path laid out for me would end up with a part-time teaching gig for $30k, if I was lucky. This was made abundantly clear to me by others on the same path, including faculty

    My little sister was a gifted dancer. She studied marketing, abandoning a Dance arts degree. She's doing a lot better than she would have.

    I could provide other anecdotes-- friends who 'stuck with it' and are 35, making $8.00 an hour, and hitting me up for a job in spec writing, because they're just now figuring out that humanities Ph.D's are in a bit of oversupply.

    As for some mythical economic system where everyone gets to follow their deep passions and interests straight into a well-paying, secure job-- has that ever been the case? Should society as a whole subsidize economically non-viable positions? This is not to say that humanities degrees are worthless: But rather there is some baseline demand of X tenure track positions, and it appears that supply is some multiple of X, leading to depressed wages and misery, as outlined in the article.

    I think the wrong idea would be to artificially inflate X.
    posted by mrdaneri at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    smirkette, all it takes to be a Metafilter member is five bucks, and all it takes to make something up for debate is an idiot willing to debate it. And this is exactly the kind of thread that makes me want to renew my request for an "enemy" contact relationship.
    posted by JHarris at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    To be fair, I was musing on going info-dumpster diving for data on education level, not academic discipline sympathies.
    posted by smirkette at 6:46 PM on May 10, 2012


    The only conclusion we can draw from this thread is every major's terrible.

    Except math. In 1974 I was a high school senior trying to get into MIT. A recruiter came to my school and gave an impassioned lecture about how the technology we would work with for the rest of our lives did not exist yet, so the only way to prepare for it was math, that was the foundation of all technology. He gave his own example, he went to MIT just before Radar was discovered and worked with it for the rest of his career.

    I scoffed at this idea. Then months later, I visited the MIT campus and one of my tour guides said I should stop by his Comp Sci class, there was an interesting lecture today. I went there and the lecturer held up this little chip, I could barely see it from where I was sitting in the back of the auditorium, which was standing room only. He began, "here is a preproduction sample of the new Intel 8080 microprocessor."

    As for the long term career viability of math, in a couple of weeks I am going to a temp job, scoring high school algebra exams again for about $12 per hour. I previously scored this test beside unemployed people with Master's degrees in math, a young lawyer who quit the profession, and an assortment of other people from young to elderly retirees, who all as a minimum, have a college undergrad degree. As I score the exams, I will most certainly see scrawled, angry comments again, about how the student will never use algebra again once he has left high school. Don't be too sure, kid.
    posted by charlie don't surf at 6:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    "I can name how many symphonies would have saved lives, toppled despots, cured diseases, reached new planets, and furthered human rights. Big fat 0."

    Seriously?

    La Muetta de Portici. The Diggers' Song. The Internationale.

    The Republic, The Rights of Man, Common Sense, The Prince, On Liberty, The Wealth of Nations, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Communist Manifesto, The Feminine Mystique, The Vindication of the Rights of Women, The Second Sex, A Room of One's Own, Walden.

    Hell, Marc Rayman developed practical ion propulsion BECAUSE HE HEARD IT MENTIONED ON STAR TREK.

    Yeah ... music and writing and stuff ... never has any effect on anything important ...
    posted by kyrademon at 6:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


    (Although that would be interesting, too. Such is research: so many interesting questions!)
    posted by smirkette at 6:46 PM on May 10, 2012


    It's complicated, but to simplify, public institutions have been defunded consistently by states.

    This.

    Hasn't anyone else noticed this happening step by step over the past several decades? Every year a little worse, a little worse. And it always only gets worse, it never gets better.

    The gradual and continual erosion of its higher education system can't bode well for the future of the U. S. of A. as a major first-world country . . .
    posted by flug at 6:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Necessary infrastructure by definition has to be funded, even if it is not a profit center.

    Oh my god, there are people here arguing that the only things that should exist are profit centers. On metafilter. The place I go to to talk with people who think hard about things. frowny face, y'all. frowny face.
    posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:50 PM on May 10, 2012 [32 favorites]


    I don't know much about computer science, but I can clearly see why our society values it. If you can afford to study a somewhat esoteric field, because you have a burning passion, great, and if you can make a living with that knowledge, also great! But one doesn't follow the other.
    posted by Ideefixe at 6:50 PM on May 10, 2012


    The idea of the university is one of humanity's great achievements and it is being degraded into the vocational training arm of global capitalism. In spite of it, some people have chosen poverty to pursue knowledge for its own sake when they could have easily enrolled in a major that gives them a nice lifestyle in exchange for helping the 1% accumulate even more wealth. Those people are heroes who have sacrificed for all of us to keep our intellectual traditions alive.

    STEM majors (like me) took the craven, comfortable path, and have nothing to be proud of.
    posted by AlsoMike at 6:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    But rather there is some baseline demand of X tenure track positions, and it appears that supply is some multiple of X, leading to depressed wages and misery, as outlined in the article.

    I think the wrong idea would be to artificially inflate X.


    Many people have mentioned in this thread that while everyone says this, it is in fact not true -- student demand is increasing and that there is in fact sufficient demand for nearly full employment of PhDs at the present graduation rates, but nevertheless the number of tenture-track positions is decreasing because of systematic defunding of and redistribution of funds within universities.
    posted by junco at 6:51 PM on May 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


    anigbrowl : I'm sorry, why are you treating the entire professoriat as powerless here? At least some professors are very well paid indeed. Remember the general pile-on on Todd Henderson, the U. of Chicago Law prof who complained about having to live on a $250,000 salary? After all, for that money you could hire 3 adjuncts and pay them a decent $80k per annum.

    I think I can field this one...
    Todd Henderson received an engineering degree cum laude from Princeton University in 1993. He worked for several years designing and building dams in California before matriculating at the Law School. While at the Law School, Todd was an Editor of the Law Review and captained the Law School's all-University champion intramural football team. He graduated magna cum laude in 1998 and was elected to the Order of the Coif. Following law school, Todd served as clerk to the Hon. Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He then practiced appellate litigation at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., and was an engagement manager at McKinsey & Company in Boston, where he specialized in counseling telecommunications and high-tech clients on business and regulatory strategy. His research interests include corporations, securities regulation, bankruptcy, law and economics, and intellectual property.

    Seasoned Engineer, esq., vs adjunct professor of medieval history. Does this need saying?

    When you choose to major in a field with room for a few hundred "practitioners" worldwide, you'd do well to make sure one of them has six months left to live before signing up for that PhD. When you choose a field where you have your pick of high-paying industry jobs, you can demand they give you a corner office and a desk made of Lego bricks.

    Summary - Minor in medieval history. Major in something actually in demand (with STEM rarely a bad place to start looking).
    posted by pla at 6:51 PM on May 10, 2012


    you're Canadian -- for a lot of my ex-peers back in the States, $15/hr is far, far out of reach (and minimum wage is half that).

    Eh, Harper seems to be intent on W.ing away all those benefits to Canadization, eh? Haha, your pain will soon be as bad as ours, haha (forced laughing to fight away the tears).

    Regarding the Friedman article, he could have equally written another article about the prisoner's dilemma titled: "Everyone has to screw over everyone else from now on!", in the same breathless vapid tone. He'd be right of course in the local version, but he'd be totally ignoring the better result possible with some deeper thinking.
    posted by Chekhovian at 6:53 PM on May 10, 2012


    Your co-pilot on that regional airline is probably on food stamps too. Just FYI.
    posted by Talez at 6:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Necessary infrastructure by definition has to be funded

    And yet somehow it isn't, then a bridge falls down, then it still remains unfunded. Fucking Crazy.
    posted by Chekhovian at 6:55 PM on May 10, 2012


    Hell, Marc Rayman developed practical ion propulsion BECAUSE HE HEARD IT MENTIONED ON STAR TREK.

    Yeah ... music and writing and stuff ... never has any effect on anything important ...


    I think I more highly value the humanities than some of the people commenting here, but I have to say that if it had been possible to get a PhD in Star Trek when I graduated from high school I might well have embarked on that path and it would not have been a good decision.
    posted by XMLicious at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2012


    Oh, one more thing:

    Professors aren't pro athletes. It's not like they're weeded out throughout their young lives. Calling for people to be more realistic about their dreams of teaching humanities doesn't mean that humanities are only taught by the best. It just means that humanities are only taught by those rich enough to afford it and political enough to rise through the ranks.
    posted by Navelgazer at 6:56 PM on May 10, 2012


    Arts, including liberal arts, are in fact not vital to survival.

    But they are essential for existing as a human being, instead of just existing.
    posted by jokeefe at 7:08 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Eh, Harper seems to be intent on W.ing away all those benefits to Canadization, eh? Haha, your pain will soon be as bad as ours, haha (forced laughing to fight away the tears).


    Well, it started in both countries before either of those assholes. Canada has weathered it better (or maybe just started with further to fall), if you look at things like income inequality and social funding (not to mention University funding!) There's nothing Harper would like more than for Canada to suck as much as the US does (or, hell, just become a state!), but I'm hopeful that Canadians aren't going to let him get his way.
    posted by junco at 7:08 PM on May 10, 2012


    get a PhD in Star Trek when I graduated from high school I might well have embarked on that path and it would not have been a good decision.

    Please. That is a deliberate mischaracterization. Dude saw Star Trek, was inspired, studied PHYSICS, not cultural studies in Star Trek.

    I *will* say, however, that I had a somewhat embarrassing realization about six months ago: my current social values and ethos is largely based on TNG, which I watched as a middle schooler.

    Hey, at least it's an ethos.
    posted by smirkette at 7:10 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Alright, I am not really expecting anyone to listen to this, but whatever.

    So what are people supposed to do these days? I'm finishing off a chemistry degree right now, with damn good marks, all things considered, and plans to go into academia, due to a bad experience at my industry coop job. But lets say I'm open to changing, going somewhere else.

    -Work at an Autoplant, construction or an oil patch? Pays really well ($30+ hour, starting, lots of overtime). Except for all those layoffs as of late, all the articles about various plants closing, car companies needing to be bailed out by the government. One of my freinds still sneers at me for going to grad school though, when I could be making so much more driving a forklift.

    -Skilled labour, like an electrition, welder or woodworker? Honestly, this seems to be the best bet. Huge pay, if you get a job in one of the maintenance oriented ones I'm sure there will always be work (Old buildings need plumbers and electitions, right?)

    -Go into a humanities degree? That seems to be out. I'd hate it anyway.
    -Social science degree? I've got a few course of that now, and I could see myself enjoying doing historical research. My papers would probably be rather mechanical, on really hard-fact topics (Don't know, analysis of building materials or something), but I'd like reading the books. However that seems way out.

    -Computer Science? I am good with computers, I can program a little. I've got about half a minor in CS. However, every thread we have on Computer Science has a bunch of programmers going on about how worthless CS degrees are, and how you should just teach yourself how to program, and they prefer to hire people without CS degrees. Also; Am I the only one who remembers the dot com bust, and all the writing that went on about how everyone had gone into computers was now fighting tooth and nail for a job, and most of them had joined four startups, worked six zillion hours of unpaid overtime and gotten just enough to live on?
    Also; I can't see myself fitting in. I'm not good enough at math to really be a computer scientist and work on AI or something. However, I'm also not one that I think would do well as a programmer, despite the fact I love it. For one thing, I like doing thing the right way, and I'm good at doing thing the right way. I'm not good at doing things the fast way and churning out Line-of-Business software as fast as possible.
    That sounds exactly like my coop job (In computational chemistry); Don't worry about doing it exactly right, just get it done. Oh, it didn't work, now the boss is mad at you. Now you have to work a zillion extra hours and pray you can get it working. But who cares, you get a nice big industry paycheck.

    -Math? Actually pretty good if you go into stats, lots of work in industry running simulations and projections and such, Statscan and Revenue Canada. Too bad I'm not very good at math; I passed Calculus and physics, but man, I never was able to 'see' the equations in the way the people who were actually good at math did, and I have no idea how I passed linear alegra at all.

    -Bio, physics? Everyone I know is talking about how hard it is to find good jobs in these, even IN industry. This is DESPITE the huge amount of press biochem gets, and the rather obvious benefits to the world both of these give (Computers are now operating on a quantum level, even when they don't want to be. That is right, they have problems with TUNNELLING in CPUs, and now engineers are looking for ways to exploit it. MRI imaging, something that saved by brothers life started as theoretical physics. Yet no one is willing to pay enough physicists to discover. I do know a nuclear physicist who'd hire me for grad school though, I'd just have to teach myself a lot of things as I went.

    -Engineering? Lots of jobs. Hard work, very much the type of work I could see myself doing, though I'm not sure I could do the math classes. Pays well though, if you can pass.
    However, I couldn't survive an Eng degree. Seven, SEVEN classes a semester. I took four a semester to stay sane, with five as a standard. To be fair, one of those classes was a lab class that they are considering making worth multiple classes due to the fact it was more hours a work then any other two classes I was in combined. Then you have to be willing to be legally liable for everything you do or say the rest of your life.
    Did you know that University of Waterloo has an entire second mental health department devoted to keeping the Engineering majors from killing themselves?
    On the other hand it is one of the few things I could see myself doing once I graduate, so I guess this is my fallback if everything else fails. I'm sure I could do Chem. Eng. already having a chem degree.
    On the other hand, Does anyone else remember that Apple engineer talking about how all the engineering jobs where headed to China, since Americans were paid too much? It was in the article of the Steve Jobs talking to Obama about how to get manufacturing jobs back in the US FPP.

    -Business? Become a manager or marketing person or something? I have Aspergers, diagnosed by more then one psychiatrist, and people are telling me that the best jobs are ones where I'm literately paid to talk to people all day? To fill out memos and figure out what people to hire or something? Yeah, that sounds like a perfect definition of hell. Also, the people I know who are good with other people have graduated before me (Since I did some coop, took a lighter course load).
    Person A has an Arts and Science degree with a double major in Religious studies. She couldn't find an opening position anywhere. Secretary, mail clerk, nothing. She's gone back to library school as it was the only 'applied' post-secondary degree she could find that offered paid co-op to help her with her student debt. Her summer job ended right before the conservative government cut the Government Archives, basically dumping a zillion librarians onto the job market. She hopes she can still find one if she is willing to travel.
    Person B has a psych degree, has found a job; She works in a call centre. Lots of upward mobility there.
    Person C actually HAS a economics degree (Not commerce/Business, but an econ degree). He works at Chapters (Big box bookstore).
    Also, no one has actually been able to tell me what degree one would do to get into business, except that actual Business degrees are rather worthless. It seems to involve nebulous 'soft skills' that are not able to be trained. No one can tell me where to find these 'entry level positions' that one starts a career with either. Talking to people of my parents generation the Mail Room and work as a secretary were the common entry points, then you demonstrated that you were a good worker and moved up. However, it seems that the mail room is now automated and the secretary was fired since email and blackberries means you don't have to dictate letters anymore, so why should they pay a second person to do that, when they can just add a few hours to the work week of those salaried employees.

    -Med school? I know people trying to get into that. We've got an entire faculty of them, plus a bunch in useful programs. You work a zillion hours in uni, do a bunch of charity work so you look good, cheat on all your tests to get marks high enough, pretend to care about people in your interview, then pray a medschool anywhere will take you. Then you start REALLY working hard and rack up even more debt then a humanities major.
    Also I'm squeamish and couldn't handle the blood.

    -Law school? Um, yeah, I really wouldn't want to go into a court room and try and convince people of things. I took a law class in high school and dropped it after the first mock trial-thing when I realized people cared more about how you worded your arguments then facts. I'm not exactly good at writing persuasive arguments, as you can probably see by the above paragraphs. Also there is all this talk of the law school bust.

    -Chemistry? This seems like my best bet. It has industry jobs at various levels; drugs, plastic companies, computer companies, toner companies, etc. Government needs lots to monitor water quality and stuff like that. Harder and harder to get professorships in it, but less so then most other fields, as tenure teaching doesn't seem super common, since chemists actually need labs and stability to research in, and enough of us are working on things like cures for cancer and AIDS, new lights, batteries, that we as a whole get funding. Also, Canada doesn't seem to have quite the prof glut that the US has, so I might be able to find a place. I'm still debating becoming a spectroscopist though, since not many people are interested in it (I'm the only one I know of at my University), most just want to use the tools. Probably a better option, since it doesn't require becoming a prof, and I keep hearing it is hard to find good NMR spectrosopists since it is a rather hard field, and you have to spend a bunch of your time being your own technician despite having a PhD. Right now I'm trying synthetic chemistry, and seeing how that pans out. If I like this summer I may well go into it, despite being less safe. I figure I'll take all the NMR classes I can get my hands on, just in case though. I do like taking them, and they are useful to what I want to do.
    However, every chemistry blog I see is talking about drug companies going out of business, 2 or more postdocs becoming common, synthetic jobs moving to China where you can have them done by lab techs with a 2 year lab-skills-only degree, how there are no faculty positions left and we should all work on a backup job at the patents office or a law firm or something. I'm at my fourth job in my field now: The first was at a Merck facility that was closed the summer after I was there due to the merger. I was not exactly torn up about it, as two of the three most important thing I learned was that I am not cut out for industry jobs, and that making really great money isn't worth it when you come home every night and go right to bed because you have no energy, dream all night about your job, then do it again, then lie in bed all weekend despite being in an amazing new city as you have no energy. (For those wondering the first most important thing was about how to plan out research properly). My first academic job paid something like a third as much, but I would often stay late at it because I was enjoying what I was doing and could feel good about it (Determining the exact amount of radiation arriving in BC from Fuckashima). That is the type of job I want, but the type people are telling me I can't have, since they are all going away.
    The second was at a Crown-coperation that was privatized and had something like 50% layoffs when all new research as stopped. Luckily my friends there still have a job as the maintenance division will be profitable forever. Every job since has been academic.

    So yeah, I think I can see a plan that can get me doing a good job, but I'm also damn lucky, and not sure I'm good enough at quantum physics to actually DO graduate level NMR classes. But am I deluding myself? Will there be any of these jobs left in ten years, given half the companies that employ them are going under and glutting the market? Frankly the best idea seems to be to work my ass off in grad school, stay single and childless so I can afford to do grad school with no debt (or minimal, if I live somewhere cheap I can probably live on $25k/y), and frankly, grad students are expected to work evenings and weekends anyway, so I'm not sure when I'd have time to date. Then arrange a lab accident in my post-doc so everyone remembers me as the guy with such potential, while still fulfilling my life goal of discovering some useful bit of knowledge for humanity to use.
    posted by Canageek at 7:12 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    The going rate for teaching a one-semester college class in my area is about $2500 -- probably about half what a single student pays to take that class.

    This is the real punchline in this story, and surprised it isn't getting more attention in thread here. I don't know typical US figures, but how much is a standard course these days? And let's guess that Medieval History will have small classes, maybe 15-25 people? I want a breakdown of how much of that pot the labour is getting....

    Here's what really burns me - education is PURE LABOUR. Really, the physical plant and administration and extracurricular stuff is all just irrelevant to the core mission of higher education. I could run a uni level course in my area of expertise under a tree in a park, nothing is needed but people with brains, some books, some talking and writing.

    So why is the one misiion critical part of the equation, the teacher, getting so fucked in the modern setup? Why are the workers getting the tiny crumbs in a business that is 100% value added by the labourers? Without teachers there is nothing in this business.

    This needs much more attention. A shift to Marxist thinking about class and economics is what the losers in modern America need. I want to see cooperative universities, run by the professors, as a new model going forward.
    posted by Meatbomb at 7:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [50 favorites]


    Please. That is a deliberate mischaracterization.

    I was saying that if it were possible to get a degree like a PhD in Shakespearean Studies but for Star Trek it wouldn't be a good idea to base ones' future prosperity on that, not that such a degree exists and is what allowed Marc Rayman to develop practical ion propulsion.
    posted by XMLicious at 7:21 PM on May 10, 2012


    Canageek. God only knows what the answers are (and someone told me he was dead). Grad level NMR stuff isn't too bad though. And getting to be your own technician has its upsides...along with its continual and mindnumbing frustrations.
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:21 PM on May 10, 2012


    PhD in Shakespearean Studies but for Star Trek

    Why not a PhD in Shakespearean Studies as reproduced in Star Trek? Seems like TOS had quite a few Shakespear eps, and TNG a couple I think?
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I want to see cooperative universities, run by the professors, as a new model going forward.

    Um, as one of the lucky ones who has finally landed a tenure-track job (maybe not where I'd like to live, and in my mid-40s), this sounds an awful lot like, "Work on a lot of committees!" I'm glad there is an administration. Having professors take that over too would burden us more. Does anyone know why administration is costing so much more nowadays?
    posted by Schmucko at 7:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Do you think such coop universities could be feasible at small scales? That would help avoid the bureaucratic overhead. I like the idea, not that it would happen any time soon.
    posted by polymodus at 7:26 PM on May 10, 2012


    Did you know that University of Waterloo has an entire second mental health department devoted to keeping the Engineering majors from killing themselves?

    gee, you'd think that engineers could engineer a solution to that problem

    but seriously, canageek, i haven't the first idea what you should do - i haven't the first idea of what i should do - 54, working at a factory job that has recently made some pretty heavy demands on my time and energy, with little qualifications for anything that could help me survive, so i could get out of that grind

    seems like you get to be a bum or a slave these days, with various graduations inbetween

    i tried dropping out as a hippie in the 70s - i'm beginning to think i should have damn well tried harder
    posted by pyramid termite at 7:26 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Seriously? I'd say I'm a bit of a Trekkie, but if you're arguing that Star Trek scripts are on par with Shakespeare in deserving scholarly attention, I'd say that's the best argument I've heard for humanities PhDs all bloody night.
    posted by smirkette at 7:27 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    "I can name how many symphonies would have saved lives, toppled despots, cured diseases, reached new planets, and furthered human rights. Big fat 0."

    Seriously? La Muetta de Portici. The Diggers' Song. The Internationale... Yeah ... music and writing and stuff ... never has any effect on anything important


    How many of the creators of those works had a Ph.D in their field? Those who create the art that is our culture have rarely been academics.
    posted by the jam at 7:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Professors aren't pro athletes. It's not like they're weeded out throughout their young lives.

    Right, colleges just accept everyone, and everyone who gets the degree they're granted just for getting in (which you'll remember is everyone who applies), then with any degree you can get into grad. school. Then, they actually mail you the doctorate without you having to even ask for it. Want a job teaching? No problem, you just show up with a sports coat with patches on the sleeve and you're in.

    That sounds about right.

    Anyway, this whole "humanities aren't REAL degrees" side-track has me a bit miffed, because when you get down to it, the article isn't about people who got degrees in humanities (although I think all their examples are in the humanities), it's about a industry wide exploitation of a labor pool.
    posted by Gygesringtone at 7:29 PM on May 10, 2012


    How many of the creators of those works had a Ph.D in their field? Those who create the art that is our culture have rarely been academics.

    Well for starters, they almost surely benefitted from the academy.
    posted by polymodus at 7:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    the jam Thank you. These were not academics angry at societies monetary compensation for their work. Also, I still stand by the assertion that art is more often a reflection of culture than a cause.
    posted by karmiolz at 7:30 PM on May 10, 2012


    How many of the creators of those works had a Ph.D in their field?
    True, but they had patrons and well-educated teachers.
    posted by smirkette at 7:30 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    How many of the creators of those works had a Ph.D in their field? Those who create the art that is our culture have rarely been academics.

    You are correct in pointing out the distinction between artist and scholar of art. But the correct line of reasoning is that killing one would kill both. There's always been a feedback loop between academia and industry.
    posted by polymodus at 7:32 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Anecdata is particularly ill fitting for this conversation. As Gygesringtone pointed out the more interesting debate is about the nature of academia.
    posted by karmiolz at 7:32 PM on May 10, 2012


    Most frustrating thread ever.

    But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

    Do whatever you love. Start to finish, that's it. If it makes you rich, all the better. And if it doesn't make you any money at all, it will be a lot harder, take longer, and you'll have to do things you don't love and don't care about in order to support it. That's reality. Color the reality any way you want, and work to change it, but for the time being, that's the game.

    But I think the underlying problem is a poverty of passion. People don't have things that they love, and so they have nothing to do. It's an epidemic.
    posted by jkolko at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    if you're arguing that Star Trek scripts are on par with Shakespeare

    Not that, but rather that Shakespeare does get acted out occasionally in Star Trek. But then again, given the stuff that is studied in the humanities, how can you judge?

    A friend of mine did his masters thesis on the modes of communication between strippers and their clients. He had to do a lot of "field research".
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2012


    Also, I still stand by the assertion that art is more often a reflection of culture than a cause.

    Maybe if you stopped asserting things and listened to what people are saying, this conversation could actually go somewhere.
    posted by polymodus at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    KokuRyu writes "There also the wide world of trades and health care, both of which require math. On the other hand, if you can pass high school math, you can have enough math to go into the trades."

    Very few people can't hack the math required to succeed in many trades.

    downing street memo writes "why didn't faculty move on from the first college that 'neoliberalized' (whatever that means) themselves, towards somewhere where their skills were more valued?"

    Adjuncts/TAs and others desperately need unionization. It's the only way things are going to get better. Things are going to have to get much worse though before that'll happen. The system has been designed to prevent labour from organizing.

    lilac girl writes "There's a good chance that an engineer without a liberal arts background looking at Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in Utah or the Berkeley Pit in Montana would conclude that those mines' engineers just didn't know enough,"

    Since the beginning of the profession that is how engineering has worked. Practically all engineering knowledge is garnered from mistakes and very little from doing things right the first time.

    pyramid termite writes "after all, where does the underlying philosophy that an open pit mine is an awful thing come from? - that looking at it is a loathsome and disgusting experience?"

    Craziness is where it comes from. People travel from all over to see formations like horseshoe canyon but an open pit mine is somehow a loathsome abomination somehow worse than even something as horrifying as a golf green in the desert.

    Slap*Happy writes "No. Such as organize and go on strike. It's clear the universities have figured out how to sucker you into making them money for free, and that needs to stop. Demand your fair share. Organize or die."

    Yep. Sadly Professionals in my experience are the least likely out of all labour groups to believe that their compensation could be increased by organization.
    posted by Mitheral at 7:34 PM on May 10, 2012


    Not that, but rather that Shakespeare does get acted out occasionally in Star Trek. But then again, given the stuff that is studied in the humanities, how can you judge?

    Well, Shakespeare understood *people,* which is much of the reason anyone still cares anything about his texts. Of course ST apes it: I think a good argument could be made (or even a dissertation or ten) a lot of pop drama does ape Shakespeare, both knowingly and unknowingly.

    A friend of mine did his masters thesis on the modes of communication between strippers and their clients. He had to do a lot of "field research".

    And? Is your contempt for his/her subject or the rigorousness with which it was pursued or the subject matter? I woudln't be surprised if his/her findings went on to inform a crapton of advertising campaigns. Would that make the research suddenly valid--attaching a commercial component
    posted by smirkette at 7:39 PM on May 10, 2012


    The difference between Shakespeare and Star Trek is that Star Trek is a media and social phenomenon, whereas classical literature is the work of one person. They are very different kinds of human communication, and raise pertinent but different sets of questions. That's why both are valuable as objects of study.
    posted by polymodus at 7:43 PM on May 10, 2012


    When you study Star Trek academically, you're not just studying the scripts for Star Trek (although several of them, especially The City on the Edge of Forever, are worth serious study). You're studying such things as: a particular show's placement in the history of television. How a fan base can develop over time. Fan culture and its relationship with the original show.

    I mean, if you don't think Star Trek conventions contain a dozen or more doctoral theses alone, you haven't been to one. Additionally, had I majored in Star Trek, I might be running one of those conventions now, and they are big business.

    By the way, unless you're in an exclusively literary program, when you're studying Shakespeare, you're not just studying his script.
    posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Exactly. /highfive
    posted by polymodus at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2012


    I'm going to say it--karmiolz is very obviously a troll, and I'm pretty amazed commenters continue to respond to him/her in good faith. Furthermore, the fact that this individual wrote a long, sophomoric undergraduate essay in no way qualifies them for doctoral level research. This, to my mind, seems to be a big part of the issue--the assumption is, if you can write a passing essay while in college, you're probably just as cut out for doctoral level research as that whiny PhD who can't get a tenure-track job! /end rant

    I am grateful to those MeFites who are engaging in this thread in good faith, but overall have found the majority of responses incredibly depressing (and not because of the facts they highlight, but because of the demoralizing worldview they support).

    Full disclosure: I'm applying for PhD programs in the fall, and could not be more sure that this is the right path for me. No amount of similar MetaFilter threads could dissuade me.
    posted by nonmerci at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Would that make the research suddenly valid--attaching a commercial component

    Well I think stuffing money into the gstring of the women grinding on you always had a commercial component to it. I haven't really seen a leap forward in strip club advertising since he did his work, so its hard to imagine that it was that important.
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:47 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Also, the commercial component doesn't confer validity, it confers the ability on a field to generate wealth which might devolve upon those involved in it, and hence informs whether or not it makes sense to be outraged when being involved in said field doesn't guarantee prosperity.
    posted by XMLicious at 7:48 PM on May 10, 2012


    IMany people have mentioned in this thread that while everyone says this, it is in fact not true -- student demand is increasing and that there is in fact sufficient demand for nearly full employment of PhDs at the present graduation rates, but nevertheless the number of tenture-track positions is decreasing because of systematic defunding of and redistribution of funds within universities.

    As far as the history field is concerned, I have demonstrated that this is not actually the case. It's more complex than that.

    Canageek: learn Chinese, work in the chemistry industry. One bad industry experience isn't a good sample size.

    Here's what really burns me - education is PURE LABOUR. Really, the physical plant and administration and extracurricular stuff is all just irrelevant to the core mission of higher education. I could run a uni level course in my area of expertise under a tree in a park, nothing is needed but people with brains, some books, some talking and writing.

    Well, a lot of science needs expensive equipment, and a lot more of it requires fieldwork of various kinds. Usually the more talk-y subjects like literature or philosophy subsidize the more capital-intensive ones like physics, astronomy and so on.

    This needs much more attention. A shift to Marxist thinking about class and economics is what the losers in modern America need.

    That's what's at the root of the problem if you ask me.
    posted by anigbrowl at 7:48 PM on May 10, 2012


    I'm glad there is an administration.

    Sure but why should they be the ones hiring and firing you, and deciding how to divvy up the pot?
    posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    karmiolz is very obviously a troll
    Not my perception of things.

    No amount of similar MetaFilter threads could dissuade me
    I hope this is still true in 6+ years.

    Usually the more talk-y subjects like literature or philosophy subsidize the more capital-intensive ones like physics, astronomy and so on.

    Totally false.

    The grant bringing-in fields subsidize the non-grant bringing in fields. Usually the uni takes >51% of your money straight off the top, then charges you inflated prices with your remaining money. Its like the company store in a mining town.
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Well I think stuffing money into the gstring of the women grinding on you always had a commercial component to it. I haven't really seen a leap forward in strip club advertising since he did his work, so its hard to imagine that it was that important.

    Okay, I'm finally convinced you're a troll. Have a great night.

    Also, the commercial component doesn't confer validity, it confers the ability on a field to generate wealth which might devolve upon those involved in it, and hence informs whether or not it makes sense to be outraged when being involved in said field doesn't guarantee prosperity.

    Geez, some people will get you coming AND going. Either commercial investment of a discipline is what makes it worthy of study OR the discipline is worthy in and of itself. I would argue that the interest of so many to (fruitlessly) devote themselves and their futures denotes a discipline is worthy, but hey, that's just me and my kooky opinions.
    posted by smirkette at 7:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    so its hard to imagine that it was that important.

    Sorry, I meant that important...commercially.
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:58 PM on May 10, 2012


    Additionally, had I majored in Star Trek, I might be running one of those conventions now, and they are big business.

    But wouldn't this be because you had skills and knowledge that made you good at it without requiring a degree in Event Management, rather than anything having to do with your Star Trek degree?
    posted by XMLicious at 7:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Meatbomb: I've taken three history classes at a university about the size of Michigan State University. The first was a 1st year summer night class. Um, 30+ people I think?

    The second was a in-semester, 2nd year course. I think it was around 100 people, possibly 200.

    The final one, was booked to capacity as the prof told us on the first day that if we didn't really want to be here to get out, as they were a huge waiting list. It filled one of the universities larger lecture halls. To be fair, this prof is known to be one of the best in the department, and I must say, was a *damn* fine lecturer.

    Now, $2500 for a class seems high; I'm paying about $500 per class, not counting the tuition fee for the semester, which is pretty low. Now, I could be paying something like two or three times that at UfT, but still. $500*300= A lot more then even a tenured professors pay.
    In science I think this makes sense, as professors get funded by the university to do research, run a lab, etc. Not all of it, but they do get money. They also, I think, only pay a certain percent of students salaries.
    But what does the humanities department do with all its money?

    Chekhovian: Yeah, hint: Don't read this thread while scared about your shiny new summer job going well, coming off a med that screws with your emotions when it runs out, and not having eaten dinner despite it being 10 pm. It tends to bring out every fear you have at once. Yeah, I'm not too, too worries; Canada is better off then the US, I don't want to go into drugs, and materials science seems to be doing quite well, and have a fair number of companies in it willing to spend on theoretical inorganic chemistry. If that fails, well, I sat in on most of a graduate biomolecular NMR class last semester, and it seemed passable. I was able to follow what was going on despite not giving it the attention I would a class I was getting marked in. The physics didn't seem horribly, horribly bad, but if one needs to be able to do new research in that field...Eh, I'm sure I'd develop more intuition for it if I was doing it every day.

    pyramid termite: Part of the reason Engineering is so tough IS to week people out; The problem arises as students are very, very resistant to getting weeded out through overwork. I think the reasoning is the same as med school; If you can survive the degree, then when you are an engineer at a nuclear power plant and something goes wrong and you need to work at your best, under pressure, and with little sleep for days on end, they will have selected the people capable of doing it.
    Opinions on if it is working or not vary; Apparently there are some professors who think making it a 5 year degree with a lighter course-load would be a good idea (Though, the one I talked to wasn't at UW).

    jkolko, pyramid termite: It does seem odd these days. I'm looking at the couple of generations of my family before me, and things seem so different for them. I mean, they all had to work like mad for what they got, but in a lot of cases they did get to do what they love and with a clear path to it. Mom got a Radio and Television arts degree, got an entry level job, and worked her way up to management. Now she tells me that they wouldn't actually hire someone with the same degree she has, as there are so many of them, so she can pick the people with both it and another degree. Mixture of more people going to school, and less local television and radio stations.
    Dad was following the same path, had a number of good entry level jobs, before he left work to be a stay at home father, and took local admin jobs to raise my brother and I.

    Oddly enough three of my grandparents were involved with the education system in some way, back when it paid a sane amount.

    pyramid termite: Yeah, that sounds a lot like my Dad, who is now going back to collage (tradeschool) to try and get a degree he will enjoy working in, now that my brother and I are at university. I think if we had more people like you two, and less business people things would be better: Companies wouldn't make as much money, but they'd be more stable, we'd still have lots of entry level jobs from via support staff like secretaries, industry would be more local as giant conglomerates wouldn't have bought up so much of the local industry, thus creating more jobs. Efficiency seems to be what is killing us. There was enough work for everyone at some point in time; We have more labour saving devices now, freeing up people. Where did it all go?

    anigbrowl: Point, except that I failed to even learn *French*, and Chinese is much harder. I know someone who did take a year after his undergrad to learn Chinese and teach in China. Apparently he made more as a TA there then as a grad student here, so I guess my job is safe for a while. (Chem TAing! The one job that China won't steal since we play less!)
    posted by Canageek at 7:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    "No. Such as organize and go on strike. It's clear the universities have figured out how to sucker you into making them money for free, and that needs to stop. Demand your fair share. Organize or die."

    "Adjuncts/TAs and others desperately need unionization. It's the only way things are going to get better. Things are going to have to get much worse though before that'll happen. The system has been designed to prevent labour from organizing."


    I work for one of those godforsaken for-profit colleges as an adjunct. I have been there for many years. The job had some benefits, not very good ones, but some. I would much rather be somewhere else, but for now I am still there because I feel I have no other choice. I've had difficulty even getting interviews for anything else. (I have an MA in the humanities but I actually teach in a technical field.)

    A while back there was a union drive among the faculty, including the adjuncts. Of course, the company brought out the big guns to fight it, including spreading the rumor "if the union gets in all the adjuncts will lose their jobs." Additionally, they suddenly put a bunch of money into "improving" the facilities. (New paint. New carpet. And new flat screen tvs all over the walls that advertise the school's programs, as if the flat screens do anything to contribute to the educational environment.) And though the election had seemed like a done deal, in the end, the union lost. People were afraid.

    The kicker? They've now removed ALL benefits from the adjuncts. Every. Single. One. I know we were lucky to have any at all, compared to what folks have at other schools, but... it hurts.

    Each class I teach brings in more than $30,000 in tuition, I think. (The school charges roughly $500/credit. $500/credit! 3 credits per class. Do you realize that some of these students are paying this to sit around and learn how to use software that will be obsolete in 5 years? It's horrifying.) I get about $2500 for the whole course each quarter. My students think I am swimming in bucks, and why shouldn't they, considering what they pay?
    posted by lessobvious at 8:03 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    I assure you nonmerci I am no troll. I genuinely believe that science and technology are more important to man's basic needs than the arts. I also love and respect the arts. Has there been a time when society has employed more academics than we do now? All over people are making adjustments to their expectations, that academics in fields such as medieval history are shocked they aren't well paid is no surprise to the rest of us. There is an interesting debate to be had about how large pools of labor ensure they are valued appropriately.
    posted by karmiolz at 8:06 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The whole problem with this "coop Uni idea" is that people aren't paying for the education. They're paying for the piece of paper that says they're smart, and that paper is useless unless it comes from a "respected institution". And those Harvards and such go to great lengths to protect their brands.

    That's all it is at the core, branding.
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:07 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Well I think stuffing money into the gstring of the women grinding on you always had a commercial component to it. I haven't really seen a leap forward in strip club advertising since he did his work, so its hard to imagine that it was that important.


    Hypothesis: Advertising and mass culture casually and subtly objectifies women in ways that are harmful to our daughters and our society.

    Investigation: Study the interactions of strippers -- pretty much textbook objectified women -- and their patrons, their mannerisms, language, power dynamic, etc. For bonus points, interview strippers to find themes in their motives / situations / worldviews / self-esteem / mental health.

    etc. etc.

    If you are learning nothing about humanity and society from visiting a strip club, you are part of the problem with humanity and society.
    posted by spanishbombs at 8:09 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    There is an interesting debate to be had about how large pools of labor ensure they are valued appropriately.

    Yes, I think that this is core issue. The relative value of labor has been radically reduced in all fields these days. Maybe less so in medicine where the med schools have managed to keep supply artificially low.
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:10 PM on May 10, 2012


    lessobvious: At my school TAs/Grad Students are unionized, as are most in Canada I think. Non-STEM TAs still often have 2nd jobs they have to do in addition to student loans. Science TAs can live on their pay, though if you work out how many hours they work a week and how much they are paid I'm not sure it is minimum wage.

    Masters pay at one school I was at: $12/hour, 40 hours/week. Officially. Most people I've talked to tell me that as a grad student 50 hours a week is about the minimum, and 60 is a good idea. That is $9.6/hour for 50 hours a week, $8/hour for 60 hours of work. Canada's minimum wage is something like $9.75.
    God, I really hope I can get a scholarship or two. I'm glad I have cheap hobbies and don't eat much.
    posted by Canageek at 8:11 PM on May 10, 2012


    Those who create the art that is our culture have rarely been academics.

    Well that's true for some types of art but not others.

    Art music (as opposed to traditional or popular) by it's very nature requires scholarship for all but the most extremely gifted. This might take the form of private instruction, but it is still scholarship. Berlioz attended the Conservatoire to study music. Furthermore, off the top of my head both Schoenberg, and Rimsky-Korsakov both held jobs teaching music in formal university settings; Berlioz was a head librarian; and part of J.S. Bach's last job was music instruction (if I remember correctly, in his youth he was awarded a musical scholarship to a school).

    I'm sure other art fields are similar.

    Which of course is tangential to the idea that academics are underpaid. However, I would say that it's symptomatic of the cultural divide this thread has brought to light. The passing on of knowledge and technique has an intrinsic value, even if it's not in a field that most people recognize as needing scholarship.
    posted by Gygesringtone at 8:14 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If you are learning nothing about humanity and society from visiting a strip club

    If have to visit a strip club to understand that there is a thing such as objectification, then you are part of problem.
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:14 PM on May 10, 2012


    But wouldn't this be because you had skills and knowledge that made you good at it without requiring a degree in Event Management, rather than anything having to do with your Star Trek degree?

    Do you sincerely believe that conventions are only run by people with degrees in event management? That has not been my experience, but I have not done a full survey.
    posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:15 PM on May 10, 2012


    Chekhovian - I'd appreciate personal insults (even those insinuated with passive-aggressive perfection) kept out of the thread. Cheers.

    Karmiolz: thank you for your response. Perhaps your intentions are genuine--reading the thread, however, it has very much felt like you have inserted yourself in an attempt to steer the thread away from the topic treated in the article, and many of your comments have come across as derails. I appreciate that you are interested and engaged, but I think this is behavior that you should check, rather than defend.

    I'm bowing out now, because there is absolutely no point in trying to have a conversation that MetaFilter has attempted again, and again, and again and again. I would hope that with such a bright and educated userbase, this kind of short-sighted and anti-intellectual "discussion" would have no place in our community--as with other threads (read: feminism), though, this remains no more than a much-sought-after wish.
    posted by nonmerci at 8:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Chekhovian The thing that strikes me is that we have such a large pool of labor, over 300 million in the US alone, can we ever effectively take on halls of power again? They only cave when they have to, and given the amount of people they have to draw from I am not sure they really will.
    posted by karmiolz at 8:17 PM on May 10, 2012


    I should mention that I didn't choose those examples at random, all four contributed great academic works to the field of music.
    posted by Gygesringtone at 8:19 PM on May 10, 2012


    I would argue that the interest of so many to (fruitlessly) devote themselves and their futures denotes a discipline is worthy, but hey, that's just me and my kooky opinions.

    No, I totally agree with you on that, I just don't think that worthy = you should be guaranteed to be prosperous if involved in it and we should all be outraged if you aren't.

    Like, I think that both Shakespeare and Star Trek are great and extremely worthy things (with Shakespeare being much more significant to English language and culture, certainly) but I don't think that there's any reason one should be guaranteed prosperity due to devoting your life to it.

    Teaching high school with its attendant pedagogical practice seems much more important to me and deserving of higher salaries than are had now rather than hyper-specialized doctoral qualifications in literature or art not making enough money, if that conveys my views any better.
    posted by XMLicious at 8:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Like how the contextual framework of continuity in Odysseus's hairstyle as portrayed by 19th century scholars impacts modern Greece's dealing with other EU nations during the global financial crisis?

    Okay, okay, I'll bite because that was damn witty.

    There's always going to be a lot of lame stuff in every field that's -probably- useless. A person of my acquaintance spent about a year's worth of their engineering masters futzing with a particular piece of old research from the sixties, redoing it with an inferior research budget (thus trebling the time it took to even partially duplicate their results), which only might have a hypothetical real world application in the far future, and is currently outdone for domestic use. He colluded with several other engineers on this too, so it's not just one guy who got lucky on the grants. So the humanities is not the only place where people are doing metaphorical underwater basket weaving. There's biologists squinting themselves silly at bits of cell or animals that don't matter, physicists beavering away at cosmology that may be disproven, and as smug as the CS majors seem to be, many of my family members who went in that direction get laid off as regularly as anyone else. And the attrition rate for engineers post degree is pretty high, not everyone is cut out to keep doing it.

    In another direction, the reason why "Oh dear god why?! The tedium! The silliness!" research topics are a good idea is because of more data being a good thing. Hairstyle continuity probably won't help that much with modern EU politics (anymore than this bloke's research will fix a flush toilet) but just like this guys research may some day arm spaceships, the papers on hairstyle may boost someone else's arguments or add another data point to a bigger picture.

    Here's a few things that I was not smart enough to contribute to, but I jealously wish I could have gone to grad school for wearing the humanities hat. Less "we define the culture" elitism and more "Hey guys look, shiny problems!":

    1) Voting behaviour- why do people pick parties/candidates? (This involves throwing data into stats programs and slicing variables into thinner and thinner slivers, pretty cool, separating the people who are issues voters from hereditary voters, and so on...)

    2) This sexism thing- what gets women into in positions of power? (There's some tasty comparisons between quota systems in India and Sweden, versus the small p grass roots involvement method of induction and some absolutely mind blowing research in gender perception)

    3) Can we come up with an accurate model for the general behaviour of nations that is not going to blur into an incestuous soup of philosophies ripping each other off like Realism/Liberalism/Constructivism? (Okay, pretty pie in the sky, we're into the same territory as economists, but people do )

    4) Culturally disadvantaged groups, how can we help them not have sucky lives while not going all residential school/colonial on them? (One of my favourite psych prof's life work is this, split between looking at indigenous people's rights, and the effectiveness of schemes used in the US in 'disadvantaged' areas).

    Problems-to-solve aside, it's still got merit even in the so called fluffier side.

    Lit gets picked on for how well combed over every canonized work known to man is; that I'm not going to argue. However writing/reading, as a skill set, has proven one of the most tenacious skills humans have figured out and trying to figure out why a work of writing works is not ignoble. Unless either another dark age, or direct to brain telepathic knowledge transfer occurs, chewing on text is still going to be something we have to do. And English as a major can churn

    Now Classics is weird, it's a kind of history-dead language-lit hybrid, but each individual bit has its own bit of merit, more historical data for the great, grinding understand humans machine (Athenian taxation schemes! Societies with technology levels alarmingly like the mud hut condemned quadrant of humanity!) or part of the underpinning of lit that isn't the crazy weird dark ages Christian stuff. I know the whole poetry of human thought stuff is a hard sell, to let me put it this way: do you like stories where the characters are named things like "Virtue" and "Indolence" and they chirpily tell you how they will guide the soul into life ever lasting, or would you rather a self mutilating mother fucker begs his uncle-cum-brother in law to look after his girls? A lot of Classics is like visiting your great-granny for perogies; it's old, it dodders around and it probably won't birth new life at this point, but come on, it's got ladies ax murdering their husbands in bathtubs followed by a society of people who used numbers to name their kids.

    Philosophy, well, logic is pretty cool. The intro stuff is basically "how to hold a civil argument 101" and its not its fault that bits of it fell off and became the much more respected Psychology and so forth. I didn't dig too deeply here, so someone else needs to defend the deeper end of this, but believe me, if sophomore level logic was better respected there'd be a lot less silly going around.

    Anyway, you can Polly Anna for just about everything, and I will cheerfully admit there's research that is bad, useless or daft, but back to my other point, that even the oddest little nook is more data into the hopper, and thus part of the folded up wad of stuff used to prop the doorway to progress open. And I will chide (though with tongue firmly in cheek) the last people who tossed out the classics took several centuries to climb out of that dark age.
    posted by Phalene at 8:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Do you sincerely believe that conventions are only run by people with degrees in event management?

    No, I just don't see how in-depth knowledge of the film-criticism-type aspects of Star Trek or say the trends and themes in fan fiction would necessarily help you market and run a Star Trek convention.
    posted by XMLicious at 8:27 PM on May 10, 2012


    personal insults (even those insinuated with passive-aggressive perfection) kept out of the thread. Cheers.

    That was just a riff on spanishbombs earlier comment. But thanks for the PA compliment. I'm glad to see my efforts are not wasted :-)

    The thing that strikes me is that we have such a large pool of labor, over 300 million in the US alone

    Well I think the US isn't the issue here, its more than China and India suddenly entered the world stage in a meaningful way. That's something like doubling the workforce in 20 or so years.

    I used to wonder why we don't have better robots making everything. Then I realized that chinese workers are cheaper than robots. And they don't require the huge starting capital. How else do you explain the woman that puts 40,000 stickers on iPads a day.

    Studying history I was always perplexed that the romans didn't have industrial tools, but then I realized the economics were the same.
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    karmiolz, there is artistry in engineering and science... which is why an engineer without an appreciation of art isn't all that valuable. How would the world's greatest researchers have ever been driven to greatness without a deep and abiding appreciation of the world's artistry?
    posted by GnomeChompsky at 8:30 PM on May 10, 2012


    Chekhovian the US bit is about our academic culture like the one referred to in the article. You are of course correct though, there is a sea change coming in labor. Unfortunately I did study enough history to really fear and eager, qualified, and numerous workforce. That usually plays right into the hands of those that already wield power. Now if we could foster some sort of less centralized productive entrepreneurship that didn't play right into the hands of those already in power, that could be cool.
    posted by karmiolz at 8:32 PM on May 10, 2012


    It seems odd to me that tuition is skyrocketing, yet professors are underpaid. I guess this due to reduction in funding at the state level as some have mentioned? I would think a college education in the U.S. is extremely uncompetitive globally. It would really be nice to open the books of a public university and see where all the money goes. Maybe allowing more free market brutality in academics could have some benefits.

    It's not just academic, service, and manufacturing jobs that could end up disappearing. Couldn't new technology in machine learning and artificial "intelligence" eventually take away "knowledge" jobs as well? Like accounting, law assistance, data analysis, perhaps even teaching and coding, who knows... What scares me is in the coming ten, twenty, or one hundred years, creative destruction could take on whole new levels.

    On the other hand, is there really a limit to how many engineers, scientists, and computer scientists the world could use? Couldn't sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, medicine, the space program, artificial "intelligence", robotics, quantum physics, neuroscience, economics, etc, use all the resources we have available? In my naive, idiotic, image of a better functioning world, it is not clear why, if we have the means to provide the basic necessities of living to just about everyone on the planet, we can't allocate more of the remaining capital and resources to pursuits such as these. If there is too large a supply of these abilities now, can't we just put more people to work and get things done much faster?

    Not to devalue humanities. As many have pointed out, there is a high demand among students for an education in arts and humanities, and for works of art, music, literature, etc., in themselves.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 8:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I'm glad to see my efforts are not wasted :-)
    Wait a second... You're trying to be an asshole?! Interesting, in my experiences people aren't fond of that approach.
    posted by Somnolent Jack at 8:40 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Chekhovian; karmiolz; There is a great history podcast on that very issue, and how it links to several modern cultures. Sadly it went behind the paywall since I heard it.

    Note; I've not been following who is on what side of the argument, so this isn't an attempt to show that history is or is not valuable, just something that I think you might find interesting.
    posted by Canageek at 8:42 PM on May 10, 2012


    2. It's been said many times upthread, but apparently needs to keep being said. Ph.D's are people who have trained to teach their subject at the highest level.

    That's not even remotely true.

    Ph.Ds are people who have proven their ability to tenaciously research to the nth degree & write about - for three years or more - one particular tiny niche in their chosen field that hasn't yet been combed over a thousand times before by others.

    It's a research degree, that demonstrates their ability to understand the existing material, and extend human knowledge by the tiniest esoteric fraction.

    This doesn't have anything to do with being trained to teach.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 8:42 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


    No, I just don't see how in-depth knowledge of the film-criticism-type aspects of Star Trek or say the trends and themes in fan fiction would necessarily help you market and run a Star Trek convention.

    Huh. I would say that this are more essential and hard-won knowledge than knowing what caterer to call, which, after all, as the event organizer, you can hire somebody to take care of. But somebody who doesn't know the ins and outs of Star Trek fan culture?

    My guess is they're not going to be capable of putting together a very good fan event.
    posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:44 PM on May 10, 2012


    The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!
    posted by mediated self at 8:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Not sure why so many people in this thread are saying that academics want a "guarantee of prosperity". The bargain that academics sign up for is: middle class pay (ie, relatively low pay for the amount of education/expertise they have), but high autonomy. The problem is that now the academic jobs don't have high autonomy and the pay is no longer middle class, but poverty-line. Nobody here is saying academics should be rich or paid super-highly.

    We're talking about a situation where you have two categories of professor who teach the very same classes:

    1. Tenure-track prof:
    - teaches, say, 3 or 4 classes a semester
    - has research and administrative duties
    - has PhD
    - is paid say $50K
    - plus benefits and some degree of job security

    2. Adjunct prof:
    - teaches, say, 3 or 4 classes a semester
    - no research or admin duties
    - has PhD
    - is paid $12.5 - 17.5K
    - no benefits and no job security

    Your argument about how students don't place economic value on humanities classes is footless here, because the classes are the same.The students pay the same amount to take those classes whether they're taught by an adjunct or a tenure-track professor.

    What should happen is:
    The government (payer of many student grants and loans) should say that it will only pay for classes at institutions whose teachers are paid a certain amount or who have certain types of job protections.

    Ranking bodies like US News should start very heavily penalizing schools for high rates of adjunct teaching and for low rates of adjunct pay.

    Students and their parents should not go to schools that rely heavily on adjuncts.

    And academics should just refuse work as adjuncts.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 8:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [28 favorites]


    If there is too large a supply of these abilities now, can't we just put more people to work and get things done much faster?

    The core problem is that academia is still run like its 15th century fucking Germany. Most other systems have abandoned the apprentice, journeyman, master system. Bell labs had the system down. A Nickel from every long distance phone call in america used to go to fund them, and we got huge technological windfalls in return.

    But the general problem is the just the decrease in investment in our future in general. Short term is the only thing that's considered now.

    You're trying to be an asshole?!
    And I thought I'd done well enough to do better than just "try".
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    This doesn't have anything to do with being trained to teach.

    Actually, the scuttle butt I've heard is that being rated a good teacher at topflight schools often has a negative impact on tenure reviews. Afterall, it clearly means that you are not sufficiently focused on your research.
    posted by Chekhovian at 8:47 PM on May 10, 2012


    And I thought I'd done well enough to do better than just "try".

    Yeah, I mean, I've seen better.
    posted by Somnolent Jack at 8:48 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I would really like the people in this thread who are making huge generalizations about "hobby PhDs should just get on that industry/government/other job-search-already, look, I have solved all their problems" to maybe do a quick bit of googling, as there are plenty of websites, books, programs, and consultants designed precisely to ease that transition. This is not an original idea, and the arc of the main figures in these stories does not mean every single one of those 1000 new history doctorates is just sitting at home, blind to the possibilities beyond their door.

    The idea also that there are STEM fields and there are ART fields and that there is a stark and clear delineation between the two of them is kind of rubbish. If you consider a church, you can see many things. There is the history of sacred spaces, the religious culture, the economics of organized religion, the art inside, and so forth. But there is also the math required to design such a structure, and engineering to build it, and the qualities of various stones and the economics of transporting quality materials (do you have access to a river, or must the costs include expensive overland transportation, and so forth.) Additionally, restoration involves a great deal of chemistry and biology, along with a strong background in art history. And that's just one building! The concept that somehow math and engineering are pure little bubbles has only been true for a very, very short period of time, and really it's not often true as a practical matter, because major infrastructure projects will frequently intersect with professionals who specialize in backgrounds that overlap with the arts.

    I actually have what many people consider a "hobby" degree, and I went and did a "hobby" MSt. This is because most people actually have no idea what the relevancy of archaeology is to civilization today, which is something I would actually like to work on and develop programs around, since I am not currently doing a PhD. Archaeology, for example, tells us quite a lot about diseases, dietary changes over time, ecological stresses, and genetic developments in areas and cultural groups. There are certain areas that are still contaminated with the effects of Roman mining and copper production, which is actually quite important both as a practical matter for contemporary development and as a historical matter for understanding the economics of the Empire itself. Archaeologists are frequently scientists, or frequently use scientific reports. Art Historians often draw upon information from different fields. A biologist seeking to understand ecological changes in contemporary periods might need archaeological data to better understand the actual history of the past. In fact, the Medieval Period is of great importance to understanding climate impact and the problems societies have had in adapting to the past. There is no pure history. Facts are not something we simply know. They have to be researched, and verified to the extent that we can. Frequently this will require someone to have studied music, or art, or the literature of a period, or the political stresses. These are not worthless things, though many people do not really know the discipline-specific research that goes into what they have been taught, or are reading.


    It seems odd to me that tuition is skyrocketing, yet professors are underpaid. I guess this due to reduction in funding at the state level as some have mentioned?

    Yes. But it also has to do with rising costs of insurance, especially health insurance and risk insurance, the costs of energy, physical plant maintenance for buildings in heavy use, especially on older campuses, journal subscriptions, support staff to deal with financial aide and other issues, and so forth. I work at a college. We do not have a climbing wall or sushi, but we do have historic buildings that have such issues as "plummeting revetments" or "rusting out support structures in a historic dorm." The endowment is relatively smaller than some of our peer colleges, and of course development has been harder lately. Inflation costs of food and products. The insane technology costs, which were not really so much of an issue four decades ago: Blackboard fees, the need to replace operating systems, hardware replacements every four years, servers, tech support for the servers, tech support for the students and faculty, expensive programs, multimedia options, projectors and mobile classroom options....I mean, there are a lot of things going on, really. Tuition covers only around 50% of the cost per year per student here.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 8:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Over in a different thread, ethnomethodologist talks about adjuncting in the U.S. vs doing so in Canada. Guess who pays better?
    posted by rtha at 8:53 PM on May 10, 2012


    But somebody who doesn't know the ins and outs of Star Trek fan culture?

    My guess is they're not going to be capable of putting together a very good fan event.


    I guess it's difficult to talk about this because we're discussing a completely hypothetical degree but it neither seems certain to me that someone with an academic degree in Star Trek would know these ins and outs, nor that someone with a degree in Event Management and an interest in Star Trek would necessarily have less knowledge in that area than a randomly selected academic. My experience with academics who have advanced degrees in my own field has kind of underwhelmed me when it comes to their familiarity with the real world.
    posted by XMLicious at 8:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    All I'm saying is that if I had a Star Trek degree I would be a millionaire right now.
    posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:57 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    > Over in a different thread, ethnomethodologist talks about adjuncting in the U.S. vs doing so in Canada. Guess who pays better?

    Give it time. Canada's always 5-10 years behind the U.S.
    posted by The Card Cheat at 8:59 PM on May 10, 2012


    rtha: You have no idea how good that is to hear. $45,000 a year? That actually sounds like pretty good pay, like, livable for one person. I don't think that is universal though; I've heard a radio interview on CBC talking about temporary teaching positions, and she was making far less then that.
    posted by Canageek at 9:02 PM on May 10, 2012


    It's sad that higher education is so expensive. If we went on to a merit based model, more like some of the European countries, then we could make college tuition free for the small percentage of intellectually minded people to explore their interests, risk free. College tuition is the real problem here, as is the influx of people into undergrad programs who really have no place in university, but are nevertheless pushed into obtaining a BS/BA as an entry level job credential. I think an important first step would be tightening high school graduation standards, and to stop giving high school diplomas out to people who can't read or do third grade arithmetic and so on. Then a bachelor's degree could start being a bachelor's degree again. I'm also a big fan of vocational schools. I'm not saying that just to create a less educated sheeplike voting base or whatever, mind you. Why not add some liberal arts core materials in to the vocational track? Then people who do want to get out into the workforce early can expand their minds, as well as their job skills.

    It's great to imagine an intellectual utopia where people can wander about idly, chasing every fancy that comes their way, switching from english to history to art and skipping about all over the place without worrying about trivial plebeian concerns like rent and food. However, we do not currently inhabit that sort of reality. I understand a need for history PhDs to exist. However, we do not need an infinite supply, as some seem to be advocating. Surely there is a limit somewhere. People need to be taught history, that is certainly important and I am not at all saying that it isn't. It's also important to have people with a professional knowledge of the subject, so that the knowledge doesn't die out from one generation to the next. But how many arts and humanities degrees are necessary for this? 1% of the population? 20%? 50%? Are we advocating that a society of 99% art history PhDs would be a sustainable one?

    Attempting to limit the number of PhDs is not an attack on the humanities. It's an attack on an unsustainable growth model, much like current unrealistic attitudes about our ability to continue a path of infinite economic and population growth. I don't think you will see many people say that someone shouldn't have a knowledge of history. A knowledge of history is great! Everyone should have a little. However, we don't need everyone to have a LOT of history, and no ability to do anything else (except for bag groceries, like one of my friend's friends).

    I often see STEM-inclined people who intuitively understand numbers trying to point out that you will never get a positive return on investment when you spend $100,000 on a degree that currently qualifies you for a $15,000/year job as a Starbucks barista. This makes the arts/liberal arts/humanities people come in and get all upset, because they think we are implying that their degree isn't worth anything.

    However, what I think is REALLY important to realize, is that while an arts or humanities degree may have extreme personal and societal value, as long as there is such a huge price tag attached...well, there's just no way to justify spending that much money on one. This isn't a metaphysical debate about the worth of art--this is purely a financial assessment. Obviously there are exceptions for trust fund kids and the like, but not everyone has rich family paying for their stuff and it's not fair to tell people like me who don't have $100,000 in pocket to spend on our college tuition that we're being unreasonable for not buying into the higher education scam.

    It is really unfortunate that this is the present reality, and I really hope that in the future, things can be fixed. It's ridiculous that college tuition is what it is and that the people doing the actual teaching aren't even making a living wage.

    However, if a bridge over a canyon were wiped out by a flood, the proper response is not to encourage people asking about the road conditions ahead to keep on driving at 65 MPH. That's just inviting disaster. A more realistic approach would be to let them know the current situation, and advise them of a safe detour route to their destination.
    posted by Estraven at 9:19 PM on May 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


    It never ceases to amaze me when these threads about academia and the economy pop up. The same folks who will run to the ramparts with mouths frothing and pitchforks at the ready when some Neaderthal politician screeches about the irrelevance or the arrogance of science and scientific inquiry, or who will burn bright with incandescent rage at religious fundamentalism gone wild, will turn around and run amok in these threads bellowing about the liberal arts being a "hobby" or a "luxury" or a waste of resources or a dilettante's paradise.

    And they will heap scorn and contempt on a woman who's trying to teach medieval studies at a community college in Arizona because, well, goddamn it, she shoulda known better, just like the fictional welfare queen made from whole cloth in the senescent imaginings of Ronald Reagan shoulda known better than to game the system and then play the victim like the leech she was.

    That anyone with half a brain could think there is any logic to the argument that, for instance, medieval studies have no relevance to today's world other than as the hobbyhorse of navel-gazing elitists is simply another demonstration that the burgeoning idiocracy and its cult of anti-intellectualism are blind to any fine distinctions of class, political persuasion, or intellect.
    posted by blucevalo at 9:21 PM on May 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


    blucevalo Pointing out that living in a society that not only funds community colleges, but provides assistance to cover basic necessities to people who study something as esoteric and intrinsically not financially valuable is actually a good thing doe not mean we decry the study of that field in total. Did she go into it because it was her passion? If so, then shouldn't she be glad to be able to continue to do it? Or were financial concerns her main goal in attaining her degree? If that is the case she made a poor choice. Not everyone gets to do exactly what they want all the time, pleading that society should value your personal interests more does not seem productive.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Also, I still stand by the assertion that art is more often a reflection of culture than a cause.

    I wonder who might be in a position to actually address that assertion in a substantive way?
    posted by one_bean at 9:29 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    one_bean If we want to get snide I will ask that once the historians and artists answer that question how many children were saved from starvation by that knowledge.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:32 PM on May 10, 2012


    It's great to imagine an intellectual utopia where people can wander about idly, chasing every fancy that comes their way, switching from english to history to art and skipping about all over the place without worrying about trivial plebeian concerns like rent and food. However, we do not currently inhabit that sort of reality. I understand a need for history PhDs to exist. However, we do not need an infinite supply, as some seem to be advocating.

    Honestly I think your first sentence is a little insulting, as no one here is advocating this at all, and presumably every single person in this thread has to consume food and sleep somewhere. Probably we are also mainly plebeians, unless Prince Charles has decided to wander through our various scripts and puns as well! Doctoral programs are supposed to be intense, professional degrees. Humanity PhDs generally run between 7-10 years to complete, which is kind of the opposite of whimsy.

    Also, I don't think a single person is advocating endless history PhDs. (This sounds sort of like a great Monty Python skit premise though.) Many people have pointed out the problems of students going in for degrees in which they are not funded, which is a huge mistake, and that their departments do accept more students than they should, in part because they offer cheaper labor. There is a huge difference between "I think college professors should be paid a living wage and offered some sort of stability" and "we are going to die, crushed by the mass of the history PhDs falling from the sky."
    posted by jetlagaddict at 9:33 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


    "Of the 22 million Americans with master's degrees or higher in 2010, about 360,000 were receiving some kind of public assistance, according to the latest Current Population Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau in March 2011. In 2010, a total of 44 million people nationally received food stamps or some other form of public aid, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
    Hm. So that would be a rate of 1.6% of the advanced degree population. Meanwhile, US population in 2010 was about 309 million, also per the Census Bureau. So the aggregate total of 44 million would be 14.3% of the population.

    Flip this the other way -- advanced degree population: 98.4% not on assistance. Overall US population: 85.7% not on assistance.

    I understand the pain, suffering, and indignity of being on assistance. But it seems an advanced degree significantly reduces the risk of that happening to a person.
    posted by aurelian at 9:38 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


    I would really like the people in this thread who are making huge generalizations about "hobby PhDs should just get on that industry/government/other job-search-already, look, I have solved all their problems" to maybe do a quick bit of googling, as there are plenty of websites, books, programs, and consultants designed precisely to ease that transition. This is not an original idea, and the arc of the main figures in these stories does not mean every single one of those 1000 new history doctorates is just sitting at home, blind to the possibilities beyond their door.

    My sister got a PhD related to cancer research and discovered she could make about $30,000 a year doing research as a postdoc in Canada. So, she moved overseas and made double that (and even that wage is a bit of a letdown for someone who had spent about 25 years in school).

    Due to a disagreement with the researcher who had hired her overseas, she walked away fro, that job, and was utterly lost for 6 months, as there were no other jobs in her field where she was, and even if she relocated, she would be back to making $30k a year. She was pretty bitter - she had invested all that time and effort, and for what?

    I think a lot of us tend to be unable to look at things objectively in order to make a rational choice that may change our earning potential. We tend to identify with our studies, and we have also invested a lot of time and effort to get where we are... Changing careers can seem like failure, and it's never easy - it's like voyaging on an unknown ocean.

    Anyway, my sister eventually got a job using her skills in applied research. She gets to focus on her research interests, and it's in a field with commercial applications. People will pay for her skills from now on, which is good.
    posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    without worrying about trivial plebeian concerns like rent and food. However, we do not currently inhabit that sort of reality

    No actually we do. But we won't admit it to ourselves. Do first world nations ever run out of food? Isn't the real problem that we grow too much? What about this housing bubble? Didn't we build too many houses that don't have people in them?

    No the problem isn't in scarcity, its distribution, or rather failures of distribution.
    posted by Chekhovian at 9:39 PM on May 10, 2012



    one_bean If we want to get snide I will ask that once the historians and artists answer that question how many children were saved from starvation by that knowledge.


    Well, historians can offer really good insights into historical patterns of crop development, famine, harvest failures, and land use. Irrigation systems are often region-specific; understanding better ways of efficient water transportation to crops and developments does often lead to better crop yields. Analysis of early agriculture helps develop stronger, more resistent plants today.

    This is kind of specious though, as I'm pretty sure most people in most fields don't really help starving kids outside of a UNICEF box.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 9:39 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Just another reason I don't want to move to Arizona.
    posted by thetoken at 10:03 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    What about this housing bubble? Didn't we build too many houses that don't have people in them?

    I thought the housing market had more to do with an oversupply of money in the mortgage lending industry causing irrational price increases than an oversupply of houses. At least where I live. Perhaps over-building of high-income housing, and under-building of low-income housing, happened as well.

    ...physical plant maintenance for buildings in heavy use, especially on older campuses,
    ...journal subscriptions....The insane technology costs, which were not really so much of an issue four decades ago: Blackboard fees, the need to replace operating systems, hardware replacements every four years, servers, tech support for the servers, tech support for the students and faculty, expensive programs, multimedia options, projectors and mobile classroom options....Tuition covers only around 50% of the cost per year per student here.


    Are universities less efficient in these areas than the business world? I would certainly rather see more of a start-up mentality regarding technology and IT if that means paying a living-wage to teachers. Many universities have a lot of land. Is it possible for them to provide faculty housing at a reduced cost?

    Well, historians can offer really good insights into historical patterns of crop development, famine, harvest failures, and land use. Irrigation systems are often region-specific; understanding better ways of efficient water transportation to crops and developments does often lead to better crop yields. Analysis of early agriculture helps develop stronger, more resistant plants today.

    If this is the case they should be valuable to the agricultural and infrastructure industry.

    I'm glad to see public assistance is provided to those who need it. I hope this remains the case if things don't improve. Perhaps it helps some people follow their passions if they are willing to accept some amount of poverty.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 10:08 PM on May 10, 2012


    karmiolz: Also, I still stand by the assertion that art is more often a reflection of culture than a cause.

    one_bean: I wonder who might be in a position to actually address that assertion in a substantive way?

    OOOH! OOOH! ME, SIR, ME!!!

    *ahem* Karl Marx famously argued that human cultural production is a "superstructure" that is built upon an economic "base". That is, cultural products are directly informed by class relations. However, beyond this broad metaphor he didn't offer much, if any, explanation of the relationship between the base & the superstructure, other than to assert that the relationship exists, and in a one-way causative direction. For Marx, class relations & economics were seen to be material, whilst culture was viewed as an abstract entity without real material effect.

    It fell to later followers of Marx, such as Antonio Gramsci, when theorising about why the supposedly "inevitable" contradictions of capitalism had failed to give rise to spontaneous proletarian revolution, to re-examine the base/superstructure doctrine. In Gramsci's theory, capitalism maintained its power relations through an ideological hegemony, whereby the working class were prevented from developing true class consciousness, because of a "false consciousness" imposed upon them by the cultural hegemony controlled by the capitalist class, specifically through their ownership of, and control over, cultural capital & production. In this way, Gramsci brought "culture", which was formerly thought of as abstract, back into the world of material economic production.

    Ironically, at the height of the cold war, it was actually American cultural materialist academics, arguing for economic understandings of why, for example, Hindus revere cows as sacred, or why ancient Middle Easterners eschewed pork, who held the flag aloft the highest for a quasi-Marxist view of culture as primarily reflective, and not causative, of underlying economic conditions.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 10:18 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


    jetlagaddict: There is a huge difference between "I think college professors should be paid a living wage and offered some sort of stability" and "we are going to die, crushed by the mass of the history PhDs falling from the sky."

    Yes, which is why I also mentioned at the end of my comment: "It is really unfortunate that this is the present reality, and I really hope that in the future, things can be fixed. It's ridiculous that college tuition is what it is and that the people doing the actual teaching aren't even making a living wage." I guess it's possible you were too offended to read until the end, though.

    In all honesty, a lot of people I know in the arts/humanities DO consider themselves above rent and food. Their parents pay for all of it for them so that they can focus on their studies (undergrad and beyond). And I mean, that's a great setup! But not everyone has access to that sort of free funding, and I'm sick of those people telling me that I'm less intelligent/less noble because my choice of degree is partially influenced by my future ability to make rent and feed myself.

    Chekhovian: The potential exists, for sure. The current financial and political setup of the world is currently not conducive to this, unfortunately. Wealth (re)distribution is certainly a lengthy topic in its own right.
    posted by Estraven at 10:46 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


    In all honesty, a lot of people I know in the arts/humanities DO consider themselves above rent and food.

    Ahh yes, anecdata. Please, no more of this.
    posted by mek at 10:54 PM on May 10, 2012


    Ironically, at the height of the cold war, it was actually American cultural materialist academics, arguing for economic understandings of why, for example, Hindus revere cows as sacred, or why ancient Middle Easterners eschewed pork, who held the flag aloft the highest for a quasi-Marxist view of culture as primarily reflective, and not causative, of underlying economic conditions.

    I thought the original assertion was about art reflecting culture rather than culture reflecting economic conditions (a quite different proposition in my view), but I am fascinated to hear your theory on how the historical unpopularity of pork consumption in the Middle East supports Marx in the slightest.

    Because while the practical demands of pig husbandry in the relatively arid conditions of the Middle East certainly provide a disincentive to farming that animal, it's hard to see how such a prohibition would embody any kind of ideological hegemony, since the economic savings would be evenly distributed - it's not as if any heretodox farmers would have benefited enormously from taking up pig-breeding in defiance of contemporary mores. On the other hand, prohibition would be an entirely rational response to the danger of trichinosis.
    posted by anigbrowl at 10:55 PM on May 10, 2012


    would embody any kind of ideological hegemony

    Erh, no, you're mixing up Gramsci with Marx, while making a strictly Marxist argument. Trust me, during the cold war, there wasn't a lot of reading of Gramsci and other continental writers in the USA.
    posted by mek at 11:05 PM on May 10, 2012


    I think you should be addressing that complaint to UbuRoivas, not me.
    posted by anigbrowl at 11:10 PM on May 10, 2012


    I admit I was fudging a bit, on the art vs culture distinction. Where the earlier posters had talked about whether or not art influences culture, I was interpreting that version of "culture" to mean something more akin to "the human condition" or world-outlook (weltanschaung).

    The point about the pork is not that it was caused by ideological hegemony, but simply that pork was a dangerous meat in warm conditions, so it was eschewed for "material" (practical) reasons, but then subsequently this practical behaviour was given woo-woo "cultural" robes ("Bog and all his angels demand this").

    Similarly, the Hindu prohibition on killing or eating cows was said to be (unconsciously) a behaviour that allowed cattle to survive lean times, thereby providing dairy goodness, useful fertiliser for the fields, as well as a convenient fuel for cooking (dried dung cakes).

    These are essentially Marxist arguments, because they deny that these religious/cultural beliefs came to be on their own, but were directly driven by underlying factors relating to "economics" in a broad sense, specifically the economics of not getting sick (and therefore being unable to work etc) or the economics of rural life with handy bovines providing buckets of goodness.

    On preview: no, the cultural materialists of the cold war period were not following a Gramscian argument - they had reverted (perhaps unknowingly) to a more orthodox Marxist view of "culture". Sorry if that wasn't clear in my segue from Marx to them via Gramsci.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 11:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Weltanschauung
    posted by UbuRoivas at 11:23 PM on May 10, 2012


    I think you should be addressing that complaint to UbuRoivas, not me.

    Two misreadings don't make a reading!
    posted by mek at 11:27 PM on May 10, 2012


    Tell that to Derrida.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 11:41 PM on May 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


    The point about the pork is not that it was caused by ideological hegemony, but simply that pork was a dangerous meat in warm conditions, so it was eschewed for "material" (practical) reasons, but then subsequently this practical behaviour was given woo-woo "cultural" robes ("Bog and all his angels demand this").

    But if you don't have a germ theory of disease, and you kill and cook the pig the same way you do everything else, and it tastes great when you eat it, then it's not obvious why you should subsequently get sick. I don't even think there's a whole lot of woo-woo here; I don't know what Islamic law specifically says about it, but in the Old Testament the only admonishment is not to eat/handle pork, because 'they are unclean to you.' There's no backstory about Satan possessing pigs or anything; this is just included amongst a bunch of other practical advice supposed to have been received by Moses.

    I don't want to turn this into a derail; I just don't actually see how Marxist theory actually improves our understanding here one whit. Not that I'm very sympathetic to Marxist theory in the first place, which I consider a depressing antihumanist philosophy.
    posted by anigbrowl at 11:41 PM on May 10, 2012


    Joey Michaels: "Instead of working to make things equally miserable for everyone, shouldn't we be working towards making things better for everyone?"

    Are you suggesting every profession should have a tenure track?
    posted by falameufilho at 11:45 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    But if you don't have a germ theory of disease

    Bring on the philologists! We can solve this riddle with HISTORY!
    posted by UbuRoivas at 11:53 PM on May 10, 2012


    Right you are, anigbrowl, but the suggestion that information contained in holy scripture arose from material conditions, presented in the 19th century, is a rather radical atheist position. (Though not unheard of, eg. Montesquieu's climate theory of civilization) Reflecting back from our (admittedly privileged and educated position) it may appear "common sense," but it was definitely a departure. Extended versions of this analysis popular today include Jared Diamond's Gun, Germs and Steel and such entries into ecological history as Charles Mann's 1491 and 1493. Basically, in historical materialism a la Marx, the active agents of history are the resources and their geographical distribution, rather than the humans. Cultural product comes after, and is largely determined by the former process.

    Again, this was a pretty radical notion, as it began to dismantle the ethnographic interpretation of European civilization as inherently superior, which enjoyed enormous acceptance in the 18th century through the present.
    posted by mek at 11:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Right you are, anigbrowl, but the suggestion that information contained in holy scripture arose from material conditions, presented in the 19th century, is a rather radical atheist position.

    What? All I'm saying is that it wouldn't have been obvious to people back in ancient times why the pork should have been causing them to get sick if it wasn't rotten. Nowadays we know about germs, so if I eat something and get sick I can conceive of other possibilities besides some inherent defect of the food in question.

    Basically, in historical materialism a la Marx, the active agents of history are the resources and their geographical distribution, rather than the humans. Again, this was a pretty radical notion, as it began to dismantle the ethnographic interpretation of European civilization as inherently superior, which enjoyed enormous acceptance in the 18th century through the present.

    You know that David Ricardo had developed his theory of comparative advantage before Marx was even born, right? The idea that people are a product of their natural environment is an old one, going back to ancient Greece. On reflection, what annoys me about Marxism is not so much Marx as Marxists. There are a lot of other philosophers and economic thinkers worth knowing about, but a lot of Marxists (in general, rather than you guys in particular) have this excruciatingly annoying habit of assuming everyone else is ignorant and/or the victim of a false consciousness. At least, it's excruciatingly annoying when its thrown out as a criticism of ideas one might have developed on one's own. The problem is that a lot of Marxists don't seem to distinguish between people-who've-never-thought-about-this-stuff and people-who-happen-to-hold-a-different-opinion. It's unpleasantly like talking to members of a religious cult.
    posted by anigbrowl at 12:24 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Whenever anyone asks me what I think belongs in the very first course taken by all computer science majors, they're probably thinking "Java or Python or Scheme?" or maybe "programming or discrete math?" or maybe "hardware or software?" or maybe "inspiring survey or technical weed-out?", but I always give the same answer.

    A writing course.

    A course on effectively communicating complex ideas with other human beings. A course that students without basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills wouldn't be even be allowed into. A course that gave its students timely, useful, detailed, and brutally honest feedback on the clarity of their prose.

    Because dear God!




    Also, I'd like a pony.
    posted by erniepan at 12:29 AM on May 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


    a lot of Marxists (in general, rather than you guys in particular)

    I'm not a Marxist; I was only pointing towards one suggested answer of whether art/culture affects a civilisation (which was the idea I was thinking of before, more than weltanschauung, but I had a brain freeze, which may also go by the name kopfgeschneeligkeit).

    posted by UbuRoivas at 12:43 AM on May 11, 2012


    When you're about to take a huge dump on the humanities in this discussion, remember this: those scientists and mathematicians who made your hobby possible came from schools and cultures that valued the arts and the sciences.

    Hey guys. This year is Alan Turing's centennial. Did you know he identified as a philosopher and theoretical mathematician? Did you know he was a good friend of Wittgenstein? I'll skip over the details and let people think on these two points and how it relates the very fact of our existence today.

    What a crappy thread.
    posted by polymodus at 12:46 AM on May 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


    There are a lot of other philosophers and economic thinkers worth knowing about, but a lot of Marxists (in general, rather than you guys in particular) have this excruciatingly annoying habit of assuming everyone else is ignorant and/or the victim of a false consciousness. At least, it's excruciatingly annoying when its thrown out as a criticism of ideas one might have developed on one's own.

    Yeah, well, unfortunately you're both projecting and completely talking past me, as I don't understand what comparative advantage has to do with anything we're currently talking about. As I said in my own comment that I hope you read, the underpinnings of historical materialism are old ideas. How he formulated it and the specific consequences of it, were. I guess we should have gone something that didn't start with the M-word, as to not trigger you, sorry.
    posted by mek at 1:02 AM on May 11, 2012


    I just wish Pangloss was here, so he could explain to us how this is best of all possible worlds.
    posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:47 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Here's my 2 cents regarding CS.

    My background: BS in CS. Went into business programming utilizing the ms/.net stack. Considered advanced mathematics (probably had enough for a minor) and theoretical CS but decided on the financially easier route of business (plus I didn't like the idea of navigating university politics or writing grant proposals).

    Making generalizations about the future of employability in "CS" or what is required to get into "CS" is difficult due to how big the CS umbrella is. You have entire subfields and specialties with their own forces at play as to what is required and how long lasting the job market may be. I could spend my whole career doing nothing but one of business programming, embedded programming, systems programming, database admin, systems admin, hardware support, IT support, etc. And I'm sure many of those could be broken down much further.

    Programming is my specialty. Specifically, business programming using .net. By business programming, I mean I work on custom programs written specifically for a purpose within a business to get their day-to-day work done. More specifically, the software I work on helps to send digital books and documents to printing presses for print and distribution.

    For this type of programming, at least in my area, there is a lack of skilled programmers - meaning when I talk to the recruiters, they have more positions than they can fill. I'm located in the Philly suburbs. I don't believe this type of position is going to be outsourced/offshored anytime soon. The logistics don't make sense and there is little quality control on the workers, so you're really tossing the dice. You need to spec everything so detailed that you are practically already writing the programming. I've seen it tried in the groups I've been in and fail more often than work.

    I'm incredibly lucky to have had the aptitude for and interest in mathematics and computers from a young age. If you are as lucky, you'll have no problem finding a CS job for the rest of your life, IMO. If you don't have the natural aptitude but have the interest, just work at it and you'll have no problems either. Much of it is simply reading about the technology and how others apply it, then tailoring it to your goals. Without aptitude or interest, you'll have a harder time, but I'd say that describes at least 50% of the programmers I've worked with, so it is being done if you're so inclined. And I'm not trying to put those 50% down, many do a great job. But when their day is done, they don't want to read about or think about programming, while I still do. This definitely gives me a huge edge in the job market.

    Programming is constant problem solving at various levels, which I think is part of why I love it. If that's not your thing, there's a huge need for "auxiliary" activities like testing, documentation, business analyst, requirements gathering, project management, production support, etc.

    In summary, I'd say consider looking into CS as a job/career even if you don't find it particularly interesting or have the aptitude for it. It has as about as much of a future in regards to employment as anything can given the current economic conditions, with the possible exception of some areas, like maybe nursing.
    posted by Bort at 3:56 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Whenever anyone asks me what I think belongs in the very first course taken by all computer science majors, they're probably thinking "Java or Python or Scheme?" or maybe "programming or discrete math?" or maybe "hardware or software?" or maybe "inspiring survey or technical weed-out?", but I always give the same answer.

    A writing course.


    The thing I've disliked most about a lot of the people I've worked with is the poor communication skills. I tend to annoy people with how technical I am, but I think that's because of all the mis-communication I see happening and the wasted time that results. You see the same thing happen here all the time. People give 5 word comments and expect everyone to magically know exactly what they mean. You ask for clarification, since the comment could be taken 20 different ways, and the commenter acts like you are an idiot for not understanding them.
    posted by Bort at 4:02 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Did she go into it because it was her passion? If so, then shouldn't she be glad to be able to continue to do it?

    Er... it's pretty hard to carry out a research program while making a less than subsistence wage adjuncting at a community college in Arizona. You're worrying about all the crap that comes with that wage. You don't have job security, so you're worrying about that. You're at a community college, so you've not got the library resources you'd have at a university. In the best case, you're spending a lot of time making friends with the librarians and interlibrary loan (not a bad thing, but it'll eat time). In the worst case, you're busy with interlibrary loan and you don't have online journal access, thus spending more time on interlibrary loan. Your travel budget for conferences is zero. It's likely worse than it was when you were a grad student, as there are fewer places to ask for funding. Then there's your teaching load. Which is probably pretty substantial. While I know one person who says teaching one course does wonders for his productivity, for most people it's seriously draining. In my department, the standard teaching load for a grad student is two sections, both meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays. For most people, that means Tuesday and Thursday are shot between teaching, office hours and grading. Multiply that by two, at least, as teaching lecture takes more preparation. And, oh, by the way, it's pretty hard to get stuff done during office hours--any time you start doing work, your brain starts saying, "But someone's going to come in in a minute."

    Why did I dignify this with a response?
    posted by hoyland at 5:46 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Metafilter: Don't do research, do market "research"!
    posted by kengraham at 5:56 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Nevertheless, I chose to major in Computer Science instead because even at age 17, I realized that learning skills with zero practical application would be a really bad career move. So it's sort of hard to sympathize with people who don't catch the Clue Train until it's long since left the station.


    That's funny of you to say so, because you should've known that you are supposed to move into management ASAP instead of being a code monkey all your life—you may have a higher starting salary, but you will be bumped in favor of cheaper, younger candidates. What, didn't your professors tell you that? Pity.
    posted by autoclavicle at 6:01 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Climate scientists have some amazing 19th century data -- but they needed a naval historian to help interpret it.

    as for why Agricultural companies don't hire agricultural historians: they are not interested in improving agriculture and reducing famine, but in making more money. Similarly, drug companies do not fund research into one of the most important areas of health: the nonpharmacological management of chronic diseases.

    as for the academic humanities saving the lives of children: one of the biggest problems in the occupation and attempted reconstruction of Iraq was the fact that history was largely ignored. In Germany and Japan after WW2, they employed academic historians as part of the reconstruction effort.
    posted by jb at 6:11 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


    In summary, I'd say consider looking into CS as a job/career even if you don't find it particularly interesting or have the aptitude for it. It has as about as much of a future in regards to employment as anything can given the current economic conditions, with the possible exception of some areas, like maybe nursing.

    Maybe this is a reflection of living a long way away from Silicon Valley and other tech centers, but I don't see IT as being a huge potential goldmine. I hear concern about job insecurity, too -- not at the level of database administrator or information architect (we are going to need those jobs for decades yet), but at the more entry level, I don't see how we can be certain about what jobs will stay local and which will get outsourced or made redundant by technological changes.

    I know and interact with a bunch of people who work in some variety of "IT," from help desk up to director of IT for major organizations. None of them earn crazy huge salaries; the help desk people are earning less than the woman in this story (but they are working full time and with benefits), and the manager level people are earning solid middle class salaries but won't be buying second houses on the beach any time soon.

    But the actual irony, given the direction of this discussion, is that many, if not most, of the CS/IT/GIS/etc people I know got liberal arts degrees, maybe in math, maybe in history, and fell into tech work based on aptitude or a side interest, or as a result of going to grad school. Their broader backgrounds inform their work and don't seem to be a barrier to entry.
    posted by Forktine at 6:16 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Ghostride The Whip:But seriously, what do those of us who are bad at math and science do?

    Just as one example, I work for a medium-to-large software company - we're about 4000 people now I think. About 15% of the company write software. That's 600 people. The other 3400 people, less a couple dozen people in accounting, are the people who aren't (necessarily) as good at math and science. They're project managers, they're account reps, they're people who talk to partner companies, they're sales people. They're people who do non-engineering jobs at a company that just happens to make an engineered product.

    There are many of jobs out there for people without strong math and science skills - though obviously not enough since the downturn - that have much better prospects than adjunct professor of medieval history at a small poorly funded school. The skills aren't all that different, to be honest, though obviously they're applied quite differently.

    It's really not all rocket science.
    posted by atbash at 6:20 AM on May 11, 2012


    I have a PhD and I teach in a university. As a direct result of some of the things posted in here, I will vindictively brutalize* a bunch of engineering majors come finals. They don't need degrees, anyway, since they'll all be able to get perfectly good low-wage jobs outsourced from China after the American cultural tendency to exalt retardation results in the country's conversion to a nation of sweatshops.

    Then I'll go back in my office and use my piles of grant money to pay my rent while dreaming up ways to make my research as economically useless as possible.

    Seriously. The fucking philistines are at the gate and the only meager recourse of those of us who understand that basic science and art and the humanities are tremendously fucking important and worth fighting for is the fact that we, as teachers, can flunk the philistine's kids whenever they even remotely deserve it.

    So: sorry, you entitled, facebook-checking-in-class pre-med motherfuckers, that you mistook my calculus class for nothing more than a hurdle between you and a lavish, minimal-work, maximal-toys, soul-sucked, fatass, consumer-narcotized future. My job is to make you understand this beautiful shit and why it is beautiful, and anything less than growing the fuck up and taking an actual interest in some actual content is going to get your ass failed, unless you are Carl Friedrich Fucking Gauss. Yes, the proofs of all the little theorems will be on the final.

    (And if you are interested, but having legitimate trouble understanding something, please come to my office and I will do my absolute damnedest to figure out how and why you are not understanding, and rectify the situation. For you, I have all fucking day.)

    *With total fairness; there is nothing unfair about very hard exams as long as everyone is treated equally by whoever grades it.
    posted by kengraham at 6:37 AM on May 11, 2012 [30 favorites]


    For me, the question of whether the Humanities is essential can be decided by this article about Camus in the New Yorker that I'm somewhat obsessed with. The wrestling with the question of existentialism: Why, when on balance there is more suffering in life than there is when there is no life, do we not all go home and blow our brains out tonight?

    Camus' very elegant answer is something that has stuck in my brain for weeks now: That one must imagine Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill "with half a smile on his face."

    You don't get that half a smile unless you have something other than 0s and 1s in your brain. You do it through other aspects of the human experience. Love, understanding, curiosity. These are things that the Humanities addresses.

    To deny the importance of art, music, and books is to deny us the answer to survival, I think. What good is the human race if it does not do these things? Otherwise, isn't our legacy predominantly one of destruction, of each other, of other species?
    posted by angrycat at 6:57 AM on May 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


    > The other 3400 people, less a couple dozen people in accounting, are the people who aren't (necessarily) as good at math and science. They're project managers, they're account reps, they're people who talk to partner companies, they're sales people.

    Yeah, but here's how it works, with academia: imagine someone hearing a description just like yours, of a sector just like yours, and thinking "Great! That sounds like the job for me. I'll get one of those jobs."

    So our hypothetical bright-eyed young graduate starts looking into the job. Turns out you can't just walk into it, you need to be properly trained for it first and that takes a while. But! The company says it has some sponsored places available, for the best future-job-applicants, where they'll pay for all their training and living expenses and give them some paid on-the-job experience. Our young graduate applies for one of those competitive spaces, and is accepted. Brilliant! She's on her way.

    The training period takes a long time, longer than she'd thought. It's also really, really hard. But that's okay. She can struggle through that, she's determined, she's going to see this out to the end. She's doing a lot of work and not getting paid brilliantly for it, but she can accept that - this is an apprenticeship, right? What worries her more is that she's starting to hear rumours of how bad the job market is in this sector, and how lots of people get paid very badly and don't have much job security. She looks into this a bit, and hears conflicting advice. Some people tell her that the job market is dismal, there are no jobs for anyone, and she should get out now. Other people tell her that the work is awful and everybody hates it and they're paid terribly. Hmm. That doesn't sound good.

    But she looks around, and she asks around, and it doesn't look so bad from where she is. After all, she's surrounded by people who are doing the job she's getting trained to do, so clearly there's a lot of people out there working in the sector; she knows that the customer numbers are increasing year after year, so clearly there's still demand; and the people she works with and associates with professionally seem pretty happy with their jobs, don't they? And even if the job market's tough, well... she's always been at the top of her class, she got accepted into one of these sponsored training positions, and her trainers tell her she's really good at this. Also, she's heard that a lot of people in the profession are just about to retire, creating even more jobs. She's prepared to make sacrifices about where she lives and where she works, too, so she figures she'll probably be okay.

    Her training period finishes. She takes the very tough exams, and she passes. She's worked so hard, and she's pleased as anything. The company says, "congratulations! Now you can work for us! Except, of course, you understand, times are hard, so 80% of our jobs are actually work-from-home minimum-wage positions with no job security and no benefits. Oh sure, yes, there's loads of customers, loads of them, we all have so much work to do! But, most of the work goes to the people in those work-from-home minimum-wage positions, because they're cheaper - or the trainees in the training program, because they're cheaper still. (Thanks for that, by the way!) Yeah, you probably didn't see many of the people in the badly-paid jobs around, so maybe you didn't know they existed - after all, we don't give them offices or list them on our corporate material as staff or anything, and it's not like they stick around long enough for anyone to learn their names, ha ha. Anyway, you're going to be one of these people. For now. But hey, if you just stick at it, you might get one of those good positions like the people who trained you next year. After all, lots of people are just about to retire, and we always have more customers!"
    posted by Catseye at 7:16 AM on May 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


    Woah, Ken I assume you've been marking papers as well, what a drag. But anyway a few things:

    1) Apparently we should all be doing computer science. Which is amusing seeing that there was a thread a week or so ago where there was some debate concerning the 'theoretical/conceptual' nature of CS degrees, when a 2 year applied course should do. If you don't see how this is the same argument, maybe you need some more study.

    2) For our invisible hands of the market friends - what is value? how is it defined? One of the things i do as an academic is teaching the cultural dimensions of capitalism. For instance why is it that traditionally feminised professions such as nursing and childcare are paid so much less than the financial wizards who have proved their worth so effectively lately. It is one thing to recognise these things. A whole other thing to challenge them.

    3) Metafilter has a somewhat unfortunate reflection of the wider derision of advanced studies in areas where it's not possible to demonstrate a direct financial gain. I study software, and how people use it. We'd be fucked if we didn't have a bunch of mid 20th century philosophy to draw on to make sense of this mess. Wittgenstein has already been mentioned, so I'll add Heidegger, Kant, Merleau-Ponty, probably some Husserl, and a bunch of Pierce's pragmatism. I couldn't do my job without these thinkers, and you probaly couldn't either.
    posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:21 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    One thing I don't understand in this thread, is all the humanities people who seem to almost feel betrayed by the STEM people who look down on their subject, as though we should feel some... "natural feeling of brotherhood", perhaps? I don't get it. There's a big difference between the sciences and the humanities, just as there's a huge difference between intelligence and intellectualism. It's not in any way hypocritical to respect intelligence and the "get-things-done" mentality while at the same time condemning intellectualism and the pretentiousness that it often entails. I think the line between intelligence and intellectualism is a very important distinction to make, because it's quite possible to have one without the other, and I think that's part of the problem with humanities field - because there's no quantifiable way to determine proficiency in humanities subjects, those fields have no way to weed out the really dumb intellectuals in the same way that STEM fields do.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:34 AM on May 11, 2012


    I'm totally fucking marking papers right now. I am reading this thread to stay awake because my brain is trying to escape from consciousness.
    posted by angrycat at 7:35 AM on May 11, 2012


    Angrycat, as someone who has just finally finished marking some hundred or so papers, I'm pouring out a measure for you.

    Wolfsdream, it is pretty clear that you don't get it, despite your getting-things-done mentality. My question to you would be in what way do you think you have any standing to criticise the humanities? You're not part of it after all. Life is much more than numbers my friend.
    posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:45 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    In summary, I'd say consider looking into CS as a job/career even if you don't find it particularly interesting or have the aptitude for it.

    My friend who has both a CS degree and strong interest in and aptitude for programming is currently unemployed and unable to find any work except in a restaurant (even with government help schemes paying part of her salary). And this is in Canada's largest city. Things are VERY different outside of Silicon Valley.

    If I were really giving advice to a young person for training I would list the following areas as pretty good for jobs:
    - statistics
    - health sciences (probably nursing or allied health sciences)
    - trades (plumbing, electrician)

    Yep, that's about it. It seems that we are willing to keep spending on health what we're not willing to spend on education, and statistics is widely applicable in both the public and private sectors. It's not that nothing else will lead to a good career, but nothing else seems reliable. I have met engineers working in restaurants, people with biology, chemistry and physics degrees tell me they are useless if you stop at the BSc, getting into medical school is a crapshoot and there are shortages of training positions.

    And my CS friends have either a) spent years working in places they didn't want to live, or b) are unemployed.

    The irony is that the person I know who is currently having the best career success (loves her job, makes an income that made me blanch with shock when she told me) has a PhD in a social science field and teaches at a university. Of course, she is tenure-track, and paid about 5-times as much as the adjuncts teaching at that same university.
    posted by jb at 7:46 AM on May 11, 2012


    My friend who has both a CS degree and strong interest in and aptitude for programming is currently unemployed and unable to find any work except in a restaurant (even with government help schemes paying part of her salary). And this is in Canada's largest city. Things are VERY different outside of Silicon Valley.

    You friend ought to come to Victoria or Vancouver. Huge talent shortage here. In Victoria (where Microsoft and Zynga just opened studios, but there is a large software industry besides those two), employers say getting access to talent is the biggest obstacle to growth.
    posted by KokuRyu at 7:54 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    After reading this entire thread, I'm somewhat in awe that wolfsdream01 has found a fresh way to troll it at such a late stage in the game.
    posted by rory at 7:55 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


    If I were really giving advice to a young person for training I would list the following areas as pretty good for jobs:

    [...]

    - trades (plumbing, electrician)

    Funny you mention that. I'd probably do the same. Apropos, there was a great look at this very thing in the longform feeds just the other day from The New Atlantis: Shop Class as Soul Craft, to wit:

    Of the Smith-Hughes Act’s two rationales for shop class, vocational and general ed, only the latter emphasized the learning of aesthetic, mathematical, and physical principles through the manipulation of material things (Dewey’s “learning by doing”). It is not surprising, then, that the act came four years after Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line. The act’s dual educational scheme mirrored the assembly line’s severing of the cognitive aspects of manual work from its physical execution. Such a partition of thinking from doing has bequeathed us the dichotomy of “white collar” versus “blue collar,” corresponding to mental versus manual. These seem to be the categories that inform the educational landscape even now, and this entails two big errors. First, it assumes that all blue collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white collar work is still recognizably mental in character. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements.
    posted by jquinby at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    because there's no quantifiable way to determine proficiency in humanities subjects, those fields have no way to weed out the really dumb intellectuals in the same way that STEM fields do.

    Nice though it would be if those of us in the arts & humanities just got to spout whatever nonsense we liked and get paid for it, because it's all like totally subjective anyway, this is not in fact the case. We also have peer review, competitive grant writing systems, promotions and hires that need justifying, and those of us in the UK are currently facing this just the same as the scientists are.

    I have nothing against STEM folks, though... but most of the people I know working in STEM fields are either academics or former academics or people who got PhDs and then went into industry, so "academia is eating its young" is not exactly news to them.

    (I am also marking exam scripts. And marking. And marking. And dreaming of gin.)
    posted by Catseye at 8:00 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    As a scientist, I am disgusted by bullshit businessese like the acronym "STEM", and would also like to point out that the metrics for determining "good" or "valuable" science are about as concrete as the metrics for determining "good" or "valuable" work in humanities. The metrics for determining "valid" (or, in my field, even "correct") science are more concrete than those for humanities; however, validity is a necessary, but insufficient, condition for "goodness".

    Go and read some science journals, which contain plenty of fruits of research whose funding seems dubiously justified. That's okay, though, because an excellent scientist is often someone who makes one really excellent contribution in xyr whole life, but xe must eat the rest of the time, and doing decent, but not excellent, research is pretty harmless and potentially beneficial.

    It turns out that the actual value of science does not necessarily have much to do with its technological/economic implications, which means that the above paragraph about excellence applies equally well to the humanities.

    In fact, the humanities have that name because they engage (albeit sometimes imperfectly) with the attributes that differentiate humans from more or less boring eating-shitting-and-fucking machines. Therefore, as the above Camus-citer mentioned, the arts and humanities have a great deal of survival value: in their absence, suicide would usually be a totally rational option, at least from the perspective of balancing pleasure and meaning with pain and drudgery. If I didn't do research, and didn't find an equally fulfilling substitute, I would suicide, no problem. There's no point in living only to be a data point in the market's "aggregation of preferences".

    I will therefore leave my science department to stand shoulder to shoulder with my humanities brethren when the bureaucrats, the "efficiency experts", and the executives unleash their pitchfork-wielding mob of Jesus-freak teabagging lackeys on my philosopher, anthropologist, and literary-critic brethren.
    posted by kengraham at 8:01 AM on May 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


    there's no quantifiable way to determine proficiency in humanities subjects

    Jesus, do you also quantify your personal relationships? (Puts me in mind of this guy)

    Every stats/quantitative methods prof I've had constantly reminds us that numbers don't tell the whole story. They can point you in interesting directions and help you make inferences about the big picture, but you don't get to the real story without qualitative measures as well. I understand the lure of the quant-only world: it's ordered, it has symmetry. But the richness of life is not distributed normally. Life is gritty and messy. Numbers and science are awesome, but the humanities help us put them into context and find meaning.

    Oh man, I had the best stats prof ever this semester. He quoted T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Wordsworth every once in a while...just little throwaway allusions when they were appropriate, casual little asides recited with nothing but joy. Science and art don't have to be frenimies. They are peanut butter and jelly.
    posted by smirkette at 8:01 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    NB: By "goodness", I mean something like "high quality", not "high moral status" or something.
    posted by kengraham at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2012


    And my CS friends have either a) spent years working in places they didn't want to live, or b) are unemployed.

    "CS" is a ludicrously broad topic these days. There are a lot of specific computer software fields that are booming and others that can be predicted will boom in the near future, but if you picked up a BS learning how to create and use arrays and stacks in C++, you don't necessarily have a lot of career options in your average town. That doesn't mean learning robotics, mobile/web development, large-scale system management, big data, etc. is a poor idea
    posted by crayz at 8:06 AM on May 11, 2012




    Catseye, you are somehow allowed* to say "STEM". You just taught me that it's really such verbiage in the hands of the likes of wolfdreams01, not the verbiage itself, that bothers me.

    May your red-pen hand never fail you, and may your scruples about gin-after-marking-but-not-during grow to become infinitely flexible.

    *In my weightless opinion...
    posted by kengraham at 8:15 AM on May 11, 2012


    Heh. I don't think I've ever said STEM in real life, but when in Rome and arguing with Romans...
    posted by Catseye at 8:18 AM on May 11, 2012


    That's great crayz, it is one of my life's missions to be blamed for the downfall of society by conservatives, who have been far too busy lining their own nests. Good times!
    posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:22 AM on May 11, 2012


    I find it disappointing that so many in this thread (and on MeFi as a whole) embrace this idea of Education solely as a means to maximize profits, as it's the very same mentality that lead to No Child Left Behind.
    posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:49 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    One thing I don't understand in this thread, is all the humanities people who seem to almost feel betrayed by the STEM people who look down on their subject, as though we should feel some... "natural feeling of brotherhood", perhaps? I don't get it.

    You just spent a large amount of time telling people that they were foolish, and that you feel no sympathy for them. Even people who you consider foolish, are in fact people. Just like you. One thing I've noticed about people is that when you insult them. Your results may vary.

    Seriously though, get off the humanities drool STEM rules kick. The article is about college professors, many of which teach non-humanities subjects.
    posted by Gygesringtone at 9:07 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Er "One of thing I've noticed about people is that when you insult them, they feel insulted."

    Teach me to get up and change a diaper in the middle of typing a comment.
    posted by Gygesringtone at 9:08 AM on May 11, 2012


    the world would be an EVEN BETTER place if there were more people contributing to the history of art, and our understanding of the humanities? Wouldn't our society better if we funded more artists and scholars? For example, if Emperor Joseph II had supported Mozart for longer just think of how many more wonderful symphonies and operas we would have, instead of letting Mozart die an early death in a pauper's grave.

    And hell yes art has saved lives. The right music at the right time has probably saved my life more times than I care to think about when I've been in a deep depression. I know it's easy to kick the Humanities kid because s/he's scrawny and doesn't have a lot of grant money to spend.


    Jesus, you guys do realize how pretentious and self-absorbed that sounds, right? I mean, there are people literally going blind in Africa because they can't afford ivermectin (a $30 drug) to treat river blindness, and you're saying we should direct more money away from sciences to the arts and humanities because they "make life worth living." You know what really makes life worth living? NOT GOING BLIND.

    I realize that none of you have directly suggested taking money away from other causes to support the humanities, but where do you think that money comes from? It's not some magical infinitely replenishing resource; there's a limited amount to go around (without devaluating our economy), and I find it hard to see how giving a 60k salary to a medieval studies PhD is more important than spending the same amount on medicine and distribution channels to stop 1000 people from going blind.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:26 AM on May 11, 2012


    (I mean devaluing - sorry, forgot to spell check)
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2012


    I find it hard to see how giving a 60k salary to a medieval studies PhD is more important than spending the same amount on medicine and distribution channels to stop 1000 people from going blind.

    Is that the actual decision being made here, by the Arizona government? If so, I'm impressed that they're so concerned with the welfare of the going-blind African kiddies, especially considering that America usually ties its foreign aid with the purchase of military hardware.

    Or was that just a ridiculous rhetorical point with no relation to a real tradeoff or decision made by anybody, anywhere?
    posted by UbuRoivas at 9:32 AM on May 11, 2012 [23 favorites]


    Pardon, but as long as the "defense" budget is on the order of $0.75 trillion per annum, and we are willing to abide this, then money had best be an magical infinitely replenishing resource. It's a travesty that people are going blind due to inability to afford ivermectin, and it's also a tragedy whenever a medievalist manages a McDonald's. However, this is not one of those "tough-choices, whose-tragedy-is-worse" situations, because the funds exist to alleviate both problems; they are simply being misspent at the moment.
    posted by kengraham at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


    you're saying we should direct more money away from sciences to the arts and humanities.....I realize that none of you have directly suggested taking money away from other causes to support the humanities,

    Then why did you say that that's what people are saying?

    That 60K going to a humanities prof was never going to go to distribution of medicine. That's not how universities work.

    You view this as a competition between Science and Humanities. It isn't. We are being divided and conquered by the profit-mongers. We are being set against one another by politicians and ideologues. Who benefits from this? In the short term, it might look like STEM fields benefit (but don't pay any attention to the closing of the compsci department at the University of Florida!); in the long term, all the benefits of this nonsense will accrue to those whose only interest is how much money something can make.

    There are a ton of diseases out there where the people suffering can be cured or treated for practically nothing - the drugs exist - but it's not happening. It's not happening not because $60K is going to a humanities prof. It's not happening because drug companies can't make a profit on those drugs.
    posted by rtha at 9:35 AM on May 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


    UboRoivas I think it is a rhetorical point used for when people wax poetic about how, "life just wouldn't be worth living if it weren't for the works of [insert favorite author/director/painter/sculptor/musician]" The people spewing for such nonsense are so far removed from real struggles that they take for granted the insanely high quality of life you have if you are possessed of the leisure time to appreciate art. They don't stop to wonder what actually makes that possible, which is of course science and technology.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:36 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    kengraham Absolutely correct. The larger debate is how we support our culture, where we write the checks. When there is dissonance between what the culture espouses and what it actually supports, like a medieval history professor on welfare but a lobbyist owning multiple yachts, we have a problem.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:39 AM on May 11, 2012


    The government doesn't only want to defund the humanities (and they're not defunding the humanities to fund the sciences). They want to defund NSF. They want to defund academics in general. They are slicing education budgets from subsidized preschools through elite universities. This isn't about how useless the humanities are... this is about how there is a fundamental shift in what the United States values and how the federal and state government sets priorities which are antithetical to the creation and distribution of knowledge.
    posted by ChuraChura at 9:39 AM on May 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Also, fuck people who think blindness is somehow inherently more problematic than depression. Fuck them with infinite anhedonic despair, and may they die of thirst glued to a folding chair in an efficiency apartment, soaked in their own urine, because they couldn't justify, due to depression, getting up to consume or eliminate water.
    posted by kengraham at 9:40 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I think we should all take a breath about now.
    posted by jquinby at 9:43 AM on May 11, 2012


    The people spewing for such nonsense are so far removed from real struggles that they take for granted the insanely high quality of life you have if you are possessed of the leisure time to appreciate art.

    What absolute rot. How much science & technology did the painters of the caves in Lascaux have? Fire and stone tools? What about the rich oral & artistic traditions found in even the most base-level subsistence societies today? Artistic grave deposits from the earliest human graves?

    You'd do well to learn even a snippet of anthropology & archaeology before you go mouthing off such absolute twaddle.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 9:44 AM on May 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


    you're saying we should direct more money away from sciences to the arts and humanities because they "make life worth living." You know what really makes life worth living? NOT GOING BLIND.

    And you're saying you'd rather be able to see in a world with no books (except how-to books) or music or art or entertainment or exchange of ideas than blind in a world with those things? The parts of this world which are not directly utilitarian are exactly what people spend all that money we measure their "worth" on. Even something like metafilter is "useless" if we're measuring everything in terms of technology, health and survival. Human beings need ways to have fun and enjoy beauty and contemplation.
    posted by mdn at 9:45 AM on May 11, 2012


    kengraham Let the 2012 suffering olympics begin! Honestly though being blind in a third world country vs. the weak tea depression in America, which is an insult to people who are truly biochemically depressed, it's not exactly difficult to sympathize with the former more than the latter.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:45 AM on May 11, 2012


    [Folks, this thread is getting really ugly really fast. It would be nice if people could take a step back and not decide who needs to be first up against the wall in their dream universe, possibly.]
    posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    the weak tea depression in America, which is an insult to people who are truly biochemically depressed

    what
    posted by rtha at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


    UboRoivas So if you asked the tribe that painted Lascaux to give up their spears or their auroch images which do you think they would do? Take away every song written in the last century, what happens? Take away every medical advancement made in the last twenty years, what happens? Art is inspiring, it is the most beautiful free rider of our intelligence, humanity will continue creating artistic expressions across all media even if no one funds it. I of course think we should however fund it to the betterment of society. In a battle between science and art though, science is necessary and art is a luxury.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2012


    Metafilter: this thread is getting really ugly really fast.

    *sigh*
    posted by benito.strauss at 9:52 AM on May 11, 2012


    My apologies for ridiculous inflated rhetoric. There are probably several places in my last few posts that warrant -insertion, but I'm a vegetarian.

    posted by kengraham at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2012


    jessamyn Providing a balanced voice of reason as always. I want to give her a medal, no sarcasm.
    posted by karmiolz at 9:54 AM on May 11, 2012


    the weak tea depression in America, which is an insult to people who are truly biochemically depressed

    I'm not exactly sure what you're tying to accomplish with this wankbaity bullshit, dude.
    posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2012


    Uhm, "[hamburger]-insertion", that should say.
    posted by kengraham at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2012


    So if you asked the tribe that painted Lascaux to give up their spears or their auroch images which do you think they would do? [...] In a battle between science and art though, science is necessary and art is a luxury.

    What battle? What imagined either-or tradeoff? People have always told stories & sung songs, or adorned their bodies or made jewelry & weavings & other kinds of cultural artifacts.

    They have never needed an "insanely high quality of life" to be able to enjoy these things, as they can be enjoyed even while working - plenty of cultures do this, like singing songs & improvising music in the fields. You can even see it for yourself; it's an actual thing that really exists out there in the wider world! The examples I gave earlier also establish that there is no Maslow-style hierarchy of needs that requires a modern level of technology to be able to create or enjoy art - the only level of material comfort necessary is simply being alive.

    Second, there's this thing called night time, when productive outdoor labour isn't all that easy, and people even in ancient times gathered together to do, amongst other things, "cultural" stuff. Where do you think great oral epics like The Iliad or the Ramayana came from - thousands and thousands of lines of poetry passed down through memory alone?
    posted by UbuRoivas at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I'm not exactly sure what you're tying to accomplish with this wankbaity bullshit, dude.

    I am. And it's working amazingly well so far.
    posted by RogerB at 10:02 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    science is necessary

    The problem is that the same folks who support defunding the humanities also tend to support defunding the large part of scientific research that has no tangible economic benefit. It's very hard to take the position you're taking without essentially sounding like a shill for a few industries (e.g., the pharmaceutical industry). What you actually mean is: "The type of science that gives rise to the type of technology that is profitable and perpetuates the consumer monoculture is necessary, and art and the rest of science is cute and everything, but we don't really need it."

    If that's not what you actually believe, then I'm curious about your attitude toward particular scientific pursuits that are unlikely to be "monetized". For example, public funds just contributed to the recent solution of the famous* virtual Haken problem. Was that a good use of public funds?

    *To low-dimensional toopologists.
    posted by kengraham at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


    To deny the importance of art, music, and books is to deny us the answer to survival, I think. What good is the human race if it does not do these things?

    Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty. What would life be without a song or a dance ... what are we?

    A few ancients will debate the value of the arts, but not many. The debates are about critical study of the arts, and how much of our intellectual capacity is spent here or there.

    It's just not that simple.
    posted by mrgrimm at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2012


    I care about medieval history, I really do. I would like there to be popular nonfiction books about it, documentaries about it, classes taught about it. I have absolutely no problem spending my tax dollars on these things.

    However, if I have $100k to spend on medieval history in my budget, I could do one of the following:
    • hire one tenured professor with benefits, who would teach perhaps 2-3 classes a year and write a handful of journal articles that will never reach the public
    • hire four adjuncts, who will do no research at all, but teach perhaps 40 history classes a year between them
    • hire 10 grad students, who will teach perhaps 20 classes a year and do research (but only as long as the possibility of a tenure-track job exists)
    • buy research materials for the library, which are used by professional historians and accessible to everyone else
    • run a contest for the best original medieval history research, judged by a panel of experts, that can be entered by anyone (including armchair historians)
    • blow the whole amount on a single TV documentary that will only scratch the surface of one historical topic but reach millions of people at once
    It seems obvious to me that if I really want to encourage the study of medieval history, I would only hire a very small number of tenured medieval history professors.
    posted by miyabo at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    UbuRoivas Upthread kengraham pointed out that practically there need not be a battle. That the real travesty is that both art and science is fighting for the scraps at a much larger table. I agree with that. Abstractly however when you compare the amount of energy and time you have to put into science to keep our standard of living high and even increasing it is far greater than that of the arts. As you said, people will always create art no matter the situation. There need not be a competition and the fact that there is a well educated labor pool that exploited is the problem.
    posted by karmiolz at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2012


    The problem is that the same folks who support defunding the humanities also tend to support defunding the large part of scientific research that has no tangible economic benefit.

    Yes, this. The mocking of certain basic science research by the ignorati (mostly right-wingers, I notice) is part of the overall effort to discredit anything that could be used to demonstrate the essential falsity of the current conservative ideology. Of course, without basic research none of the highly profitable science would exist, but since they are, after all, the ignorati, they will happily dine on their seed corn and merely tsk, tsk as the next generation sinks into poverty and a backwards society, never once acknowledging their own culpability. Thus be it e'er.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 10:12 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    What is this bullshit about "hobby degrees"?

    People have been taught for decades to hold the liberal arts in contempt.

    This serves an ideological agenda: someone who is not trained to spot, question and modify rhetoric and ideology is an easy prey for an ideologue, no matter how good they are at other things (hence the over-representation of engineers in radical political movements, including those that tend towards terrorism).

    The truth is, the liberal arts are tremendously important. They are the ornament of leisure and important tools to deceive or remain undeceived; they are touchstone that enables you to decide what to do with all other forms of knowledge you may absorb.

    But, like so many other worthy and sensible things, they are an anathema to power - which, nowadays, is mostly in the hands of those who only need two forms of "art" to whip their followers up or keep them in line - fundamentalist religion and, for a small subset, the mythology of the capitalist free market. In the past, there were other tools, of course: an established church, the state religion of totalitarian communism, the fantasy of race and so forth.

    If you want to rule people, first rule their imaginations. If you want to rule their imaginations, teach them to be sceptical of the things that can free them. And if you want to teach that kind of scepticism, begin by telling people to think for themselves, then present them with facts that flatter them.
    posted by lucien_reeve at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


    A thought for those disparaging the humanities:

    Law, political science, economics, and business are not humanties courses. And yet, it is lawyers, politicians, economists, and bankers who have arguably done more to drive the current economny into such a state that people working full-time as professors cannot afford their basic cost of living.

    So....remind me what the problem is with the humanities again?...
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Hey EmpressCallipygos I am all for less lawyers, politicians, and MBAs. First and foremost lets try to teach MBAs that business doesn't exist solely for personal profit. Is it just me or didn't it used to mean creating a successful, stable, enterprise which was rewarded by the market. Maybe I was just naive.
    posted by karmiolz at 10:25 AM on May 11, 2012


    And you're saying you'd rather be able to see in a world with no books (except how-to books) or music or art or entertainment or exchange of ideas than blind in a world with those things? The parts of this world which are not directly utilitarian are exactly what people spend all that money we measure their "worth" on. Even something like metafilter is "useless" if we're measuring everything in terms of technology, health and survival. Human beings need ways to have fun and enjoy beauty and contemplation.

    First of all, scientists also write books and make music and art. In fact, people with no education write books. So imply that "humanities people" are responsible for all these great cultural works of art is utterly inaccurate. Art & culture will still survive; the difference is that it will be art that appeals to the mainstream.

    Second, now that I've disambiguated your question, yes, I'd much rather survive without "art" than without eyesight. That's just a no-brainer. Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggests that most human beings value fundamental survival needs like "food/shelter" far ahead of entertainment/leisure activities.

    Upthread kengraham pointed out that practically there need not be a battle. That the real travesty is that both art and science is fighting for the scraps at a much larger table. I agree with that. Abstractly however when you compare the amount of energy and time you have to put into science to keep our standard of living high and even increasing it is far greater than that of the arts. As you said, people will always create art no matter the situation. There need not be a competition and the fact that there is a well educated labor pool that exploited is the problem.

    I agree with that entirely. As I said upthread, I am totally in support of wealth redistribution. 100% behind you on that, and hopefully both scientists and humanities people can agree that this is a problem that needs to be solved. What I find puzzling is simply that it's a PhD in medieval studies that is being used to make this case, rather than serious problems like people dying of completely treatable illnesses. To me, that suggests some very distorted priorities.

    The problem is that the same folks who support defunding the humanities also tend to support defunding the large part of scientific research that has no tangible economic benefit.

    I would definitely argue this point. I think this perception arises because people fail to distinguish between "intellectual" and "intelligent" and this lack of distinction unfairly lumps the sciences and humanities together. So when somebody criticizes the humanities and "intellectualism", they are incorrectly portrayed as a reactionary redneck or religious zealot who is anti-science, when this is not necessarily the case.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:26 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Mental Wimp explained perfectly why I, an early-20s-just-starting-out-baby-doer-of-basic-research, view the so-called "culture wars" as a fight for personal survival. It seems as though academia has put up with a huge amount of abuse (there were probably many Faustian funding-bargains, also) in the past several decades, and is now really in a position where it needs to defend itself aggressively against the "ignorati". I'm not sure how this is to be done, though, since the institutions that house academia are already largely in the hands of the extremely well-compensated enemy.

    Oh well. At least the (very brave and awesome) students here are taking risks with riot police on a nightly basis to address the latter state of affairs. Maybe I should rethink the hard grading...
    posted by kengraham at 10:31 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I would definitely argue this point.

    Well, let's at least assemble some anecdata. Per my earlier post: do you think the use of public funds to (partially) support the folks who worked on the virtual Haken problem was a good use of those public funds?
    posted by kengraham at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2012


    Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggests that most human beings value fundamental survival needs like "food/shelter" far ahead of entertainment/leisure activities.

    And yet we have many, many artifacts from pre-history, when life for humans was particularly nasty, brutish, and short, that demonstrate that even then, people value beautiful things. Dyed cloth. Paintings on cave walls. Glazed bowls. Beaded leatherwork.

    I think this perception arises because people fail to distinguish between "intellectual" and "intelligent" and this lack of distinction unfairly lumps the sciences and humanities together.

    I don't understand what you're trying to say here. To me, it sounds like you're saying "humanities=intellectual=stupid and bad" and "science=intelligent=smart and good." Is that what you're saying?
    posted by rtha at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2012


    (And if so, what about low-dimensional topology makes it a better use of resources than medieval history?)
    posted by kengraham at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2012


    wolfdreams01 I think it's exactly that, a medieval history PhD should somehow have a high standard of living. They are being supported by public funds, isn't that a success and not a failure? We employ more academics now than ever before. There are solid points to be made about the state of education, the state of labor in general, but the original article is lacking.
    posted by karmiolz at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Can anyone else hear a sinister cackling in the distance as we rip each other apart?
    posted by karmiolz at 10:38 AM on May 11, 2012


    Can anyone else hear a sinister cackling in the distance as we rip each other apart?

    Oops. That was me watching a movie on the other screen. Sorry.
    posted by The World Famous at 10:40 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I would definitely argue this point. I think this perception arises because people fail to distinguish between "intellectual" and "intelligent" and this lack of distinction unfairly lumps the sciences and humanities together. So when somebody criticizes the humanities and "intellectualism", they are incorrectly portrayed as a reactionary redneck or religious zealot who is anti-science, when this is not necessarily the case.

    This is a deeply stupid and irrelevant derail and you should feel bad for continuing to steer the thread towards it.
    posted by kagredon at 10:45 AM on May 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Jesus, you guys do realize how pretentious and self-absorbed that sounds, right? I mean, there are people literally going blind in Africa because they can't afford ivermectin (a $30 drug) to treat river blindness, and you're saying we should direct more money away from sciences to the arts and humanities because they "make life worth living." You know what really makes life worth living? NOT GOING BLIND.

    One of my medievalist friends wrote his Phd on 14th century Catalonia.

    To be specific, he wrote it on food production, famine and poor relief in 14th century Catalonia and was able to demonstrate that famines were due to problems in distribution and the markets, not a lack of food.

    And this has NO BEARING on contemporary issues in developing countries or on food shortages like the 2010 rice panic?

    Not starving to death is even nice than not going blind.
    posted by jb at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    This is a deeply stupid and irrelevant derail and you should feel bad for continuing to steer the thread towards it.

    OK, I admit that I was being unfair here. Thank you for pointing it out. There are plenty of humanities majors who are deeply intelligent people. What I was pointing out is that there is a substantial divide between fields where proficiency can be "proven" and fields where it simply requires the ability to pontificate convincingly. Currently we label all of these academic subjects as "intellectual" and when people disparage one of those areas, we accuse them of "waging a war against intellectuals" - which implies a much broader attack than may be intended.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:53 AM on May 11, 2012


    a medieval history PhD should somehow have a high standard of living

    What is a "high" standard of living? I am in fact uncomfortable with the large paycheques of professors in some fields at some institutions. It's unwarranted because of the other rewards of the job. However, it's very sad that society doesn't value the expansion and preservation of its intellectual traditions enough to at least provide the guardians of those traditions with job security and a reasonable salary for a lower teaching load, so that they may actually perform their guardian-functions. Research and scholarship is central to those functions, and can't be performed adequately by most people if they have to teach eight classes or ten classes a year.

    (And, as I have said, society does have the means to support the expansion and preservation of those traditions, and makes a daily choice to do this inadequately.)
    posted by kengraham at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2012


    And this has NO BEARING on contemporary issues in developing countries or on food shortages like the 2010 rice panic?

    I am not certain that Jan Brewer lays awake at night thinking of these things.
    posted by KokuRyu at 10:58 AM on May 11, 2012


    We do support very comfortable livings for many members of the humanities. We just don't support a very high standard of living for a history professor at a community college. However we do take care of them by first funding that community college, and then providing additional assistance outside of that.
    posted by karmiolz at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2012


    What I was pointing out is that there is a substantial divide between fields where proficiency can be "proven" and fields where it simply requires the ability to pontificate convincingly.

    You may have thought you were pointing it out, but you have given no evidence that you understand how humanities disciplines work, what their research entails, or examples of "pontificat[ing] convincingly." While there are professors who probably do more of the latter, it is really not true of entire disciplines or fields, and there are certainly scientists who also produce bizarre results and papers that have to be retracted later. I am not really sure what you think you are proving by constantly insulting entire colleges and fields of study.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    First of all, scientists also write books and make music and art. In fact, people with no education write books. So imply that "humanities people" are responsible for all these great cultural works of art is utterly inaccurate. Art & culture will still survive; the difference is that it will be art that appeals to the mainstream.

    Um, agenda much?
    posted by Mental Wimp at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2012


    More over, here are a few of the ways in which academic humanities/social sciences have saved lives, helped bring down despots and generally made the world a better place:

    - literary analysis and other cultural studies are essential to understanding how propaganda works and how despots control narrative to gain or maintain support
    - as noted above, texts, songs and works of art have been part of every important revolutionary movement, and the academic study of them help us to better understand how these influence revolutions or raise awareness -- works suchs as Picasso's *Guernica* or the poems of Wilfred Owen
    - historians are part of the teams who study historical disease transmission, human health, climate history - these things cannot be done without historians who understand how to use our surviving sources
    - historians also are an essential part of understanding a) where despots come from, and b) what to do after you have toppled them (see my comment about Iraq above)
    - anthropologists are on the front lines of contemporary development and provide extremely important critiques on how development plays out on the ground - after all, even if you have a drug that prevents river blindness, it's useless if this drug cannot be incorporated into local societies due to the ignorance of those distributing it.

    and, of course, philosophers develop the backbone of the ways that we even use our research and knowledge. Without philosophy, there is no science, only trial and error.

    These are not "hobby degrees", done just for fun. A hobby is my knitting Doctor Who dishcloths. Studying the origins of capitalism and the economic effects of large development projects is not a hobby; my SO studies nuclear war and how very close we came to blowing up our planet and every living thing on it and what sorts of systems could help us avoid doing this in the future -- this is not a hobby. Nor is a hobby for the historians who do something so difficult that I can't do it myself -- studying the processes and results of genocide and war atrocities. The images that the public sees from the Holocaust or from the Rape of Nanjing are severely edited because the ones that historians have to view are simply too disturbing for most people. But someone has to know what happened, because someone needs to say something when one group of people begins to call another group of people "insects" or "vermin", which is one of the major warning signs (as noted by HISTORIANS) of an imminent genocide.
    posted by jb at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


    Hobby degrees is a bullshit term.

    I agree (sort of). Perhaps a better term is "meta degree". Practically speaking job-wise, many of these degrees exist solely to produce more people that teach this degree. Consider a degree in medieval history, for example, which prepares you to (almost only?) teach medieval history… compared to a degree in medicine, which teaches you how to care for patients, do medical research, work for a pharmaceutical company, run the public health office, etc, etc, etc… oh, AND teach medicine. It's not that these "meta degrees" are necessarily "bad". It's that they are quite limiting and narrow in focus. There just aren't industries (plural) for medieval history. Or even just plain old "history".

    That said, I have a graduate degree in linguistics. While only marginally better than history wrt to jobs, the writing on the wall was obvious while I was still in school, so I immersed myself in computing. (to which linguistics can be tangentially related). As a result, I've been employed since the day I left the university. My wife with a PhD in education… not so much.
    posted by readyfreddy at 11:08 AM on May 11, 2012


    I think this perception arises because people fail to distinguish between "intellectual" and "intelligent" and this lack of distinction unfairly lumps the sciences and humanities together. So when somebody criticizes the humanities and "intellectualism", they are incorrectly portrayed as a reactionary redneck...

    I think that is fair. If you defend science and engineering because it leads to a kind of knowledge that we can use to control the world with, then you aren't interested in the intellect per se. You are only interested in knowledge insofar as knowledge is power, so really you are interested in power -- economic power, social privilege -- and reject the mind, intellect, curiosity, creativity, and so on as goals in themselves. This kind of thinking leads to worshipful reverence for society's business oligarchs.

    In my book, this qualifies as both anti-intelligence and anti-intellectual. And uncritically citing Maslow's hierarchy of needs as if it is the last word on social organization doesn't help with that impression.
    posted by AlsoMike at 11:10 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    ...and there are certainly scientists who also produce bizarre results and papers that have to be retracted later.

    I don't agree with wolfdreams01's position but this does bring up an interesting question related to it: do papers in the humanities ever get retracted for methodological objections or problems with the results?
    posted by XMLicious at 11:13 AM on May 11, 2012


    They get discredited and ignored.
    posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on May 11, 2012


    Hobby degrees is a bullshit term.
    People dedicate their non-work lives to writing open-source software, excelling in athletics, fixing up classic cars, making music, and serving the poor. Why is it not honorable to pursue history research as a hobby? It might be that the world would be better off with ten or twenty enthusiastic, committed amateur historians than with one more history professor.
    posted by miyabo at 11:18 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]




    They get discredited and ignored.

    Huh. So, what kind of things merit a retraction in the humanities? Does it require something like falsification of source material?
    posted by XMLicious at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2012


    If you defend science and engineering because it leads to a kind of knowledge that we can use to control the world with, then you aren't interested in the intellect per se. You are only interested in knowledge insofar as knowledge is power, so really you are interested in power -- economic power, social privilege -- and reject the mind, intellect, curiosity, creativity, and so on as goals in themselves

    I don't think this is fair. Maybe someone is interested in curing diseases, growing enough food for the planet, solving potential future energy or fresh water crisis, because they want to help make a better world or keep the world we have, not because they want power or social privilege. And in the process of doing these things there could be plenty of opportunity to involve intellect, curiosity, and creativity as goals in themselves. And there could be many people previously tied down to manual labor and mere eeking out a mere subsistence living that are now able to enjoy arts, learn history, and participate in growing society and culture in many ways.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 11:24 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    jb and AlsoMike: preach on, brethren.

    wolfdreams01, here is the problem with art with mainstream appeal: happily, it turns out that most humans are way more intelligent and sensitive and possessed of well-articulated taste than they are often given credit for being. Furthermore, those traits are expressed in the preferences and motivations that are unique to the individual: people are at their best when doing the potentially idiosyncratic things that make them special snowflakes, as it were. Thus a person devoted to flyfishing or auto body work or programming or painting or, indeed, writing scholarly works on medieval history is most likely making important, meaningful art, albeit without a great deal of mainstream appeal.

    On the other hand, the things that we, as humans, have in common are: a bunch of unoriginal, prurient, dumb interests that center on sex, violence, and stupid humour derived from petty cruelty. That is okay! However, sort of definitionally, something has mainstream appeal exactly when it pushes aesthetic buttons that we've all got, and therefore art designed for mainstream appeal tends to be a limited thing, from which we can all derive a little enjoyment, but which lacks the meaning that flyfishing holds for the flyfisherman or breakdancing for the breakdancer or whatever.

    A society built around populism is good for the giant amorphous hive-Man but bad for all of its individual members, and the "mainstream appeal" thing is one of the reasons.
    posted by kengraham at 11:24 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Hobby degrees is a bullshit term.
    People dedicate their non-work lives to writing open-source software, excelling in athletics, fixing up classic cars, making music, and serving the poor. Why is it not honorable to pursue history research as a hobby? It might be that the world would be better off with ten or twenty enthusiastic, committed amateur historians than with one more history professor.
    posted by miyabo at 2:18 PM on May 11 [+] [!]


    I adore amateur historians. They do so much to support local archives, to catalogue and preserve those records, and generally promote interest in history.

    But there are skills and knowledge that come with academic training - thinking about sampling and methodology, reading obscure handwriting, understanding arcane bureaucracies, knowledge of previous research that informs your study of those specific records. Amateur historians can teach themselves some of this, but often don't, because that isn't their interest and because it takes more time than a hobbyist has.

    More over, amateur historians ask different questions. Most are interested in their own family, town or region. They are less interested in questions like "how is my region comparable to others around the world"? Or "how does James Scott's political science research on public and private transcripts inform our understanding of the surviving records of the peasant rebellion of 1381, and what does that peasant rebellion of 1381 tell us about class perceptions in medieval England which themselves went on to influence class perceptions in the English speaking world to this day?"
    posted by jb at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    People dedicate their non-work lives to writing open-source software, excelling in athletics, fixing up classic cars, making music, and serving the poor. Why is it not honorable to pursue history research as a hobby?

    It's perfectly honorable. It's not honorable to tell someone who's being inadequately paid to do a job they trained to do that their degree is a hobby degree, and they therefore deserve to be economically exploited.
    posted by rtha at 11:28 AM on May 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Or, if you want to look at it from the other direction, how little the employer can get away with paying them.

    This comment by Longtime Listener (no relation) captures what's really wrong with the system described in the article, and the larger labour market. Dog eat dog. What are the solutions? I've experienced quite a lot of temp and freelance work, but those have now become the norm and I am not comfortable with this technique of keeping people on temporary/contract status even though they are there year after year even though I haven't been stuck in that situation myself. To state the obvious, large employers and institutions have too much power and freedom to do this to people. There's a crying need for some clever thinkers to influence and change the system by leading it in a new direction.
    posted by Listener at 11:29 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Also, serious historical research takes

    - 40-80 hours a week of reading and writing (or data-entry, since we don't have minions)
    - the ability to travel to archives which may be in another country (even with photography taking off, archive time is a big commitment)
    - access to very extensive libraries
    - constant connection (through conferences, meetings, etc) with other people working in your field so that you compare ideas, methods, etc.

    Few amateur historians have this time or these resources. Sure, historians don't need as much money as archeologists (who have to purchase more equipment, hire assistants and spend even longer in the field), but it's not something for a Saturday afternoon every few weeks. That amount of time would not even be enough time to keep up with what is being published, let alone produce original and solid research.

    Humanities research is a full-time (or rather, more than full-time) commitment, just like any other kind of research.
    posted by jb at 11:32 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    So I'm imagining a world where all the kids leaving high school get the memo and major in Computer Science or Physics or whatever the "legit" degrees are these days. They do their time, they learn their coding chops, they model things in UML, they get their degrees, they get their jobs. Now we've got all the programmers and system architects and IT people in a room, ready to go. Fingers at keyboards. Ready to get at it.

    "So, what are we doing?"
    "We're gonna code! We're gonna quantify things!" Someone else replies. Alright! Yeah! Let's do this! Index fingers twitching, but not hitting the keys.
    "Yeah, but uh, what are we coding?" Someone on the edge of the crowd begins smell something…is it panic?
    "We're uh, developing apps! They will maximize efficiency! They will automate content distribution!"
    "Where's the content? What processes do we need to streamline?" The smell is definitely panic.
    "Well, there are people…and they want something…and we're going to make it easier for them to get it…" No one in the room knows what to do. No one in the room knows why they are there. THEN: THE PHILOSOPHER ENTERS.

    Some of the programmers recognize him. They used to spit on him, as he begged for food, before they entered the Maclab in the library. He is barely recognizable today, tattered clothing, unkempt beard, matted hair - but there is a strange light in his eyes. He begins to speak.

    "I have a message for the people." His voice is dream-like, his message incomprehensible. Somewhere, someone begins to type. They are creating a HTML document to present a transcription of the philosopher's words. Someone else writes a script for audio capture that will automatically transcribe the philosopher's ramblings into text. A third person begins to configure the server that will host the philosopher's website. As the hours drag on, no one eats, and no one sleeps. There is work to do. The philosopher talks and no one knows what it is that he says, but they are happy, because now they have a reason to be there.
    posted by newg at 11:58 AM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Serious, non-snarky questions:

    If it is impossible for enthusiastic amateurs working part time to coordinate millions of person-hours to produce something great, then how do you explain open-source software projects?

    If only professional historians can participate in high-quality history research, then how will people in other fields learn about this research and apply it? How will the scientist curing river blindness ever come into contact with the historian studying how cures affected past societies?

    Why are most popular history books and movies (and excellent podcasts like The History of Rome) created by people outside academia? If academics are supposed to be influencing society, shouldn't they be doing these things?

    Did the community of professional historians create artificial barriers to entry into their field in order to avoid competition from amateurs? (I am certain this has happened in academic computer science -- conferences are often in remote, hideously expensive locations which limits their attendance to professional researchers.)
    posted by miyabo at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I have a PhD in biology, which I think is okay with all of you, but I'm an ecologist, which means I can't cure cancer, so maybe it's not okay, but I'm a biogeochemist and aquatic ecologist with a pretty applied research focus, so maybe that's okay, but it's still mostly basic science and would probably require engineers to implement, so maybe that's not okay. I also have the most "useless" bachelor's degree possible.

    I teach at a college where we educate people who many of you probably feel would be better off going to trade school if they're not going to bother to get CS degrees. Here's what I know, from my world where "liberal arts" still means broadly educated and is not said with a sneer:

    All people, regardless of their major, need to be able to read critically and write well. They need to be able to understand rhetoric both as a tool and as a weapon. They need to know how to recognize a sophist, a swindler, or a woomeister when they hear one. They need to be able to understand why other people value things differently from them. And above all, in keeping with the Enlightenment principles on which our country was founded, they need to be able to understand the society of which they are a part so that they can participate in representational democracy.

    And, if people need to be able to do those things, they need good teachers. For those of us in academia to be those good teachers, it helps if we are paid a living wage. Because, even if you do the right thing and major in CS, if your writing teacher is more worried about picking up as many extra sections as possible to pay her rent than she is about marking your terrible essay and taking the time to meet with you about why it's terrible, you are going to be a shitty writer and not particularly well-educated, even if you end up getting paid more than her in a few years.
    posted by hydropsyche at 12:22 PM on May 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


    Metafilter: a sophist, a swindler, or a woomeister.
    posted by jquinby at 12:24 PM on May 11, 2012


    If it is impossible for enthusiastic amateurs working part time to coordinate millions of person-hours to produce something great, then how do you explain open-source software projects?

    Open-source projects are great, and in fact there are several exciting open-source projects that relate to the humanities, like this papyrus one. However, analyzing the results, and placing them within the greater context of Egyptian and Roman society is very difficult without knowing a ton about the history of these particular fragments, Ancient Greek (various dialects), other ancient languages that pop up in trade accounts, and so forth. The "further study" this article mentions is the part that requires years and years of research, which, yes, usually also requires access to an academic library, conservators, and to the papyri themselves. This isn't to say a dedicated person couldn't write an article or translate these independently, but they would have to come from a very serious research background and training in the subject.

    If only professional historians can participate in high-quality history research, then how will people in other fields learn about this research and apply it? How will the scientist curing river blindness ever come into contact with the historian studying how cures affected past societies?

    I am not sure why you think participation in research means a lack of interdisciplinary work or outreach. Presumably the scientist curing river blindness would do a literature search to see if there are papers that are relevant to their work, or a google search to see similar projects. Networking also helps connect people from different fields, although undoubtedly this kind of collaboration can always be improved upon.

    Why are most popular history books and movies (and excellent podcasts like The History of Rome) created by people outside academia? If academics are supposed to be influencing society, shouldn't they be doing these things?

    Many academics do write popular history books and consult on movies (yes, even on movies like Alexander, and many writers of other popular books come from undergraduate or graduate backgrounds. The writer of the History of Rome podcast has a degree in "Political Science and Philosophy," which has undoubtedly helped him research his love of Roman history. Mary Beard, a don at Cambridge, does a huge amount of outreach for classics, along with extremely popular publications and a television series. In order for Mr. Duncan to research and write his podcast, he's presumably using published sources written by archaeologists and ancient historians to provide the background and translations that he crafts into his engaging narrative. He doesn't have to excavate or understand the raw site reports or translate tombstones; that's someone else's work and job.

    Did the community of professional historians create artificial barriers to entry into their field in order to avoid competition from amateurs? (I am certain this has happened in academic computer science -- conferences are often in remote, hideously expensive locations which limits their attendance to professional researchers.)

    I really can't speak for historians but I'm going to assume absolutely not. There are all kinds of amateur and low-key historical societies, houses, conferences, and groups, outside of the bigger academic conferences. I know I send a lot of historical and history-based materials to researchers who are not affiliated with academic libraries, and I'm very glad I'm in a position to do so. I think sometimes there are times where there are conflicts between amateurs and professionals; I know this is particularly touchy in archaeology, for example, where there are real questions of legality and preservation, but that's not really the same.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    If only professional historians can participate in high-quality history research, then how will people in other fields learn about this research and apply it? How will the scientist curing river blindness ever come into contact with the historian studying how cures affected past societies?

    They don't have to master the history research, any more than I have to master climate science or oceanography to be able to understand an article on weather conditions or sea levels. But I couldn't write an article on weather conditions or sea levels.

    Why are most popular history books and movies (and excellent podcasts like The History of Rome) created by people outside academia? If academics are supposed to be influencing society, shouldn't they be doing these things?

    I love the History of Rome podcast, but it's not academic history. It's all stuff that has been known for 20+ (or 1000+) years. He's boiling out what has been published BY HISTORIANS. Same goes for popular historians -- they read the academic histories, and boil them out into a new narrative (or an old one, it doesn't really matter). Also, they are not required to do analysis, they can write just narrative. It's like what a science reporter does, not what a scientist does. And the level of history that they are working on is similar to the history taught in high school or intro-level college - and even then it's short on analysis.

    Whereas the academic historians has to read original sources - so that might be court documents, or tax records or every pamphlet on political economy published in Britain between 1630 and 1700 or whatever - and provide both a) new narrative and b) new analysis (relating the material theorectically to other research.

    Both of these take more training and more time. I could write a 30 page synthetic narrative in about a week or two; my SO did exactly that when putting together lectures for the course he taught.

    But an original article? This could take anywhere from a month to years (some of the best articles in my field are the culmination of several years of full-time research). For one chapter I'm working on, I've analyzed the land-enclosure for about 8 towns, which involved creating 8 databases of 100-400 records each, all from notes taken on original sources (detailed notes on 50+ documents, quick notes on 250 more) which I could only read in a national archive in another country -- and the note-taking alone took a few weeks of work, followed by more time doing data-entry, database design, cleaning data. And that is only the data-gathering for PART of a chapter - I haven't done yet the data-analysis, or the writing or the theorizing (thinking about how what I found fits in with other research so I can talk about its significance), or even the lit review so that I can do some theorizing. Since I'm working full-time elsewhere (to pay the rent), I've found this almost impossible to do in the evenings or weekends.

    Did the community of professional historians create artificial barriers to entry into their field in order to avoid competition from amateurs?

    Do medical researchers create artificial barriers of entry to their field to avoid competition from amateurs? You could go out and do some epidemiological or health care research on your own, no one is stopping you -- and it takes no special equipment (I work on a study in which all we do is interview people on the phone). But if your work is not up to the same standard as other researchers - most of whom are full time - you will not get published.

    History is actually one of the areas in which there are independent scholars who are published and respected. But they still need to fufil the expectations placed on academic history and to produce new research, not just summarize other people's research.
    posted by jb at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


    If it is impossible for enthusiastic amateurs working part time to coordinate millions of person-hours to produce something great,

    It's not impossible. It's just hard and chancy. The modern American university system has built up a huge concentration of expertise, great libraries, etc, and has a history of being able to pay its workers a middle-class income - why dismantle these things in the hope that amateurs will pick up the slack?

    I am frankly baffled at the attitude of smart people in this thread arguing that it's inevitable that only people who do work that industry pays for should get a middle class living. We have previously had a system where a certain amount of non-industrial activity was supported by middle-class salaries. In fact we had that system at a time when lots of scientific and technological discoveries were being made. It obviously can be done.


    If academics are supposed to be influencing society

    Academics are dedicated to Getting It Right, not to Getting Airtime or Influencing Society. We as a society benefit if they are removed from the pressures that lead away from a focus on getting it right (industry funding, funding that is under constant threat of being revoked by the public if their results aren't exciting enough to the public at large). Removing the pressure for sexy results, or results that are in keeping with the ideology of the times, etc, is the point of tenure and the point of having researchers who are free to decide what, in their expert judgment, are the important questions to look at, or the proper evidence, etc.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


    If academics are supposed to be influencing society, shouldn't they be doing these things?

    Why do you assume that the makers of good history podcasts are uninfluenced by historians who teach and research in universities? Whose research do you think the podcasters rely upon?
    posted by rtha at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    (I am certain this has happened in academic computer science -- conferences are often in remote, hideously expensive locations which limits their attendance to professional researchers.)

    Since even academic historians often have to pay out of their own pockets for conferences - at least, I had to as a registered grad student - I would say, no, we don't use conferences to keep people out. Conferences tend to be held at host universities and people stay in dormitories/residences.
    posted by jb at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Golden Eternity, you make a good point – it's possible to be interested in power because you want to give it to the powerless. That might be a noble motivation, but it still isn't about the intellect for its own sake. The problem with wolfdream's "get things done" mentality is that it only makes sense if you believe that things can actually get done – a belief that our political, economic and social situation is structured in a way that we can just go ahead and solve the world's problems. This is a complacent attitude that accepts the status quo.

    Wolfdream raises the issue of people dying of completely treatable diseases. This happens because the world is organized for the benefit of the wealthy, and it doesn't benefit them to cure people who can't afford medicine. How would a scientist solve this problem? By inventing new treatments or improving existing treatments so that they're profitable and the wealthy get something out of it – this is the real problem that gets solved. In general, when scientists and engineers talk about making the world a better place, they almost always hold constant the need to make it profitable for the 1%.

    That's obviously better than nothing - curing malaria for profit is better than not curing it at all. But when people start talking about how anything else is useless, that's a problem. The existing power structure is supported by culture, beliefs, ideas, philosophies, ideologies and so on, and those working in the humanities (ideally) bring critical scrutiny to them instead of taking them for granted. Scientists and engineers who say this is not important, the only thing worth doing is accepting power and solving whatever problems we can within its limitations are not only anti-intelligence and anti-intellectual, they are also the loyal lapdogs of power. They should be asking their own critical questions, like how capitalism prevents technological progress and limits its effectiveness by keeping it out of reach of those who need it the most.
    posted by AlsoMike at 12:37 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]




    I remember when I was growing up, guys in Silicon Valley could still make a good living without college, if they were machinists. That work went away when production moved offshore. Don't need too many machinists then, other than at the highest levels. And for the lower level jobs, you don't need as many because so much prototype production is automated, it's done by computer controlled mills/lathes/laser cutters etc. That day is gone. Guess what? All of the smug CS/IT people should realize that their jobs are ripe for outsourcing, unless they are at the director/managerial level. That's already happening-- IBM Global Services has decided to slash their headcount by more than 50%, last I heard. Guess what? You're not a special snowflake.


    The problem is that a lot of people don't seem to understand that policies that work well for individuals, cannot scale to meet everyone's needs. Can EVERYONE be a CS/IT worker? No. That is especially true if you can't So what are they to do then? Can you have a society where most people can't earn a living? You can, and it's brutal. If that's the world you want, then seriously, go fuck yourself.
    posted by wuwei at 12:39 PM on May 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


    *That is especially true if most of the jobs are outsourced, other than management. The only outsource-proof IT/CS jobs are in the defense industries.
    posted by wuwei at 12:40 PM on May 11, 2012


    their jobs are ripe for outsourcing, unless they are at the director/managerial level

    The scary thing is that a lot of lawyer-work will be outsourced or replaced by computers/expert systems entirely. Hell even doctors could go that way, with teleconferencing to discuss issues, telepresence robot surgeons.

    What will be left in 30 years?

    the only outsource-proof jobs are in the defense industries.

    And that's the scary truth.
    posted by Chekhovian at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2012


    outsource-proof jobs

    And of course plumbers, locksmiths and other skilled trades, as other people have pointed out.

    Hell, scientists can be easily replaced by cheap labor. South Korea will pay all the costs for grad students and post docs at american unis. I know a lot of people with hugely inflated group sizes because 80% of are from SK and they PI doesn't have to pay them a dime.
    posted by Chekhovian at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2012


    wolfdreams01, here is the problem with art with mainstream appeal: happily, it turns out that most humans are way more intelligent and sensitive and possessed of well-articulated taste than they are often given credit for being. Furthermore, those traits are expressed in the preferences and motivations that are unique to the individual: people are at their best when doing the potentially idiosyncratic things that make them special snowflakes, as it were. Thus a person devoted to flyfishing or auto body work or programming or painting or, indeed, writing scholarly works on medieval history is most likely making important, meaningful art, albeit without a great deal of mainstream appeal.

    I guess that does make sense. But your point only exacerbates the question of "why fund people to do this professionally?" As Miyabo said, maybe 10 or 20 dedicated amateurs can do a better job than one well-paid professor.

    This may be anecdotal, but I am a big fan of the Thief series of computer games, and one of the best games in that series was Thief2X, which was entirely fan-made and completely unpaid. You could tell immediately that it was a labor of love. Wouldn't it often be better to have hobbyists doing something solely because they're passionate about it rather than professionals doing it for the paycheck and job security?
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:55 PM on May 11, 2012


    why does she not follow the legions of others who get hobby degrees, put them aside, and pursue a more lucrative profession?
    posted by H. Roark


    Eponysterical

    posted by zippy at 1:03 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Wouldn't it often be better to have hobbyists doing something solely because they're passionate about it rather than professionals doing it for the paycheck and job security?

    Your example is (obviously) the exception rather than the rule. I assume you don't think that all endeavors should be replaced by unpaid hobbyists... especially for endeavors that require a huge upfront investment of time to build expertise.... because in fact they wouldn't as a general rule do a better job. (doctors, judges, highway surveyors, makers of video games in general, whatever)
    posted by LobsterMitten at 1:11 PM on May 11, 2012


    Scientists and engineers who say this is not important, the only thing worth doing is accepting power and solving whatever problems we can within its limitations are not only anti-intelligence and anti-intellectual, they are also the loyal lapdogs of power. They should be asking their own critical questions, like how capitalism prevents technological progress and limits its effectiveness by keeping it out of reach of those who need it the most.

    Our expanding (unchecked) population means that there's never going to be a perfect solution to the world's problems. Even if you form an absolute socialism where everyone gets exactly the same pay, there's a finite number of resources and eventually scarcity is going to force people to fight amongst each other. People often say "Oh, don't worry - technology will solve that problem when the time comes" but that's completely unfounded. Technology does not solve everything, and claiming it will is just as unreasonable as saying "Oh, don't worry - God will solve that problem for us."

    No amount of rhetoric or "critical questions" are going to change that fundamental constant: that we have X amount of resources and it is being split up into increasingly small portions. You can't "investigate the problem away" with intellectual inquiry - the problem and the solution are both obvious; it's just that it's a bitter pill to swallow and very few societies want to take their medicine. So until they do, accepting such limitations and working within those restrictions is a perfectly reasonable and socially responsible approach.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:12 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    the only outsource-proof jobs are in the defense industries.

    This is hardly true, either historically or in the case of the United States. For examples of the former, we have to look no further than Imperial Rome and Imperial China (the policy of relying on mercenaries for at least some of their defense did not work out well for them, but that is besides the point). The use of organizations like Blackwater/Xe/Academi show that modern states are equally able to outsource defense jobs. One might put these two thoughts together but, I am afraid, it is hard to get there without the study of history. There's a practical use....
    posted by GenjiandProust at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Wouldn't it often be better to have hobbyists doing something solely because they're passionate about it rather than professionals doing it for the paycheck and job security?

    Honestly, there's room for both. There's no finite limit for understanding and researching. Amateurs often do bring a lot of essential passion into fields; volunteers in schools, museums, nature preserves, citizen science projects et al. are wonderful and vital parts of their field. That doesn't mean professionals somehow have no passion at all. It requires an intense amount of passion to make it through three degrees-- humanities PhDs really do require an average of 7-10 years of full-time study, let alone the crushing process of jobs and grants. And furthermore, as jb and others tried illustrating above, there's a reason there are professionals. Some topics really do require those 7-10 years of study in order to understand the background knowledge. Many fields require a reading knowledge of at least three if not more languages. Making a video game is a very different enterprise than excavating a site, or researching for a full book series, and requires different skill sets and collaborations.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 1:15 PM on May 11, 2012


    that modern states are equally able to outsource defense jobs

    I meant in terms of developing the defense tech stuff. Lots of army types are terrified that all the chinese chip foundaries and such mean that any chip not made in the USA is full of hidden back doors and things put in by their spooks. This is probably a very valid concern.
    posted by Chekhovian at 1:16 PM on May 11, 2012


    karmiolz is very obviously a troll

    I'm an artist. I have a BA in Studio Art from a well respected school (Alma Mater of MeFi's own jessamyn!). I have no pretensions about my degree enabling me to do anything beyond pizza delivery - I initially went to college with the intention of going pre-med and it just flat out didn't take. I've wanted to be an artist since I was a very small child and first saw Van Gogh's "Bedroom at Arles" (I have no idea why THAT painting did it, like I say, I was a very small child - no more than six). Couldn't escape it. My long-term goal is to open a studio to teach art to toddlers and preschoolers. I have zero illusions that I will ever make any money at this. If I break even, I will be a very happy camper.

    My husband is an engineer. When we started dating, he had the joy of telling his friends and colleagues that he was involved with an artist. At best, they were skeptical. At worst...

    ... his mentor thought I was a Class A Moron. Solely because I'm not educated in the hard sciences. I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Fuck, I'll toot my own horn - in terms of critical thinking, I'm smarter than the average bear. My husband honestly believes I *think* better than he does even if he's more gifted in practical things like money management and soldering. But his mentor? I have never been treated so poorly by anyone in my entire life. The man honestly talked to me as if I was stupid, five, or a stupid five year old. Simply because I'm not a scientist. Even when the conversation veered to music theory - he refused to believe I could have any idea what the shit I was on about (when, I really truly did have a pretty firm grasp on the subject). Eventually after my husband and I had a child, the man decided that I might be ok. It took years.

    His other friends were easier to convince, but the stigma was still there. Dating an artist? Why would you do such a thing? Why would you lower yourself to spend your life with someone BENEATH you?

    I do not for one second believe karmiolz is a troll.
    posted by sonika at 2:06 PM on May 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


    wolfsdream01, could you please italicize or otherwise identify the parts of comments which you are quoting, as per site protocol? It makes your responses much easier to read.
    posted by jokeefe at 2:12 PM on May 11, 2012


    I think the larger takeaway here is that the conversion of "real jobs" into "independent contractor"-type temp positions without benefits is something that's happening across basically all industries, from the most applied of EE/CS to academic teaching and research in history. We need to think very carefully about whether we're okay with this and if not, why it's happening and how best to fix it. Splitting hairs about whose research is more inherently worthy is a total sideshow.
    posted by en forme de poire at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2012 [24 favorites]


    GenjiandProust:
    Sorry I was typing in shorthand. When I said outsource, I specifically was talking about the practice of moving the jobs offshore, or bringing in guest workers. Both things lower wages in tech fields. Guest workers can't work on most defense tech projects, because of citizenship and/or security clearance requirements. For the same reason, production can't be completely offshored. Although, as Chekhovian points out, some devices are apparently compromised by the offshore built chips.

    But this is what happens when people decide that their ideology demands destroying our industrial capacity.

    Oh and wolfdreams01, you still haven't answered my question (apologies for misspelling your username).
    posted by wuwei at 2:28 PM on May 11, 2012


    some devices are apparently compromised by the offshore built chips

    This is where the historical analogs break down I think. What if the Roman Empire had outsourced all its ballista construction to the Celts? Or the Vikings bought all their swords from Irish Monasteries....

    Studying history to analyze modern problems is great, but its not a complete solution.
    posted by Chekhovian at 2:37 PM on May 11, 2012


    wolfsdream01, the problem of finite resources is unrelated to the issue I raised about the distribution of those resources. You yourself pointed out that people die of completely curable diseases - we do have the resources to solve it - but when this turns out to be a socio-political problem rather than a technical one, the topic is carefully changed to how we don't have infinite resources. As usual, technologists claim that anything is possible with technology, we may even be able to overcome death. A small change to improve the lives of people in poverty? This is impossible, it violates the laws of nature.

    You can't "investigate the problem away" with intellectual inquiry - the problem and the solution are both obvious...

    This is precisely the anti-intelligence I'm talking about. You come to a fairly shallow solution that works to your satisfaction. Others disagree, and you immediately walk away talking about their refusal to swallow your bitter pill. This is not what I would call deep thinking.
    posted by AlsoMike at 3:18 PM on May 11, 2012


    As to the humanities vs. sciences debate: we need both. You can't throw one under the bus for the sake of the other. And I think the people who are trying to argue in favor of the humanities understand this, but I also think that stating it explicitly at this point in the thread wouldn't hurt.

    You can't function as an artist, or as any other member of society, without infrastructure. Without doctors to heal, engineers to build, etc., life becomes pretty bleak pretty fast. This is obvious. The sciences are absolutely 100% necessary to building the tools for living in society without having to literally re-invent the wheel every day.

    However. If you live in a world where you own more than one shirt (and indeed own a shirt instead of going naked or simply draping a wolf pelt over yourself) - you need the arts. Artists figured out things like fashion - silly as "couture" may be, it has trickled down into things like "a variety of pants from which to choose (or reject as the case may be)." If you listen to music, ever, thank an artist. If you watch TV, thank an artist.

    Just as not everyone with a degree in STEM is out there curing cancer right this second (and seriously, for the number of "SAVE THE WORLD" comments in this thread - I very much hope that the work of some commenters really does involve 3rd world eye surgery or you're coming off as disingenuous at best), not everyone with a degree in art history is making contributions that are directly applicable to people outside their field. However, the more skilled professionals who work in any given field, the more the field is able to expand, the more everybody benefits.

    One very, very small very easy way to look at this is just the vast, VAST market for documentaries on every single esoteric subject ever. Just flip through the documentary section on Netflix. There is a huge market for non-professionals who are *fascinated* with various subjects and want to learn more in their spare time, passively, while being entertained. The research behind these? Largely done by PhDs and professors. The knowledge in the humanities absolutely trickles down to benefit those outside of the field - just as the knowledge in the sciences is used for everyone's benefit.

    This is not to say that getting a degree in the humanities is a lucrative idea right now. It's not and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. This is just to say that the solution is not to destroy the humanities and put all of society's effort into science. You need BOTH to have people who are productive, curious, and happy.
    posted by sonika at 3:29 PM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


    If you live in a world where you own more than one shirt

    I thought you said your husband was an engineer? Most of ones I know would totally where the exact model shirt and pants and socks day in and day out (probably not the same one unless someone invents unstainable hercules cloth), oh except that isn't quite socially acceptable and "makes you look like a crazy person".
    posted by Chekhovian at 3:34 PM on May 11, 2012


    [There is an open MeTa about this thread already, please take discussions of whether or not someone is a troll there if they must happen. ]
    posted by restless_nomad at 3:41 PM on May 11, 2012


    When did I ever imply that my husband DOESN'T look like a crazy person? ;)
    posted by sonika at 3:51 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    This is not to say that getting a degree in the humanities is a lucrative idea right now.

    There is much weirdness in this thread. As a languages-studies-graduate-turned-software-engineer-when-I-realized-I-needed-to-earn-a-living married to a fine-artist-turned-computer-graphic-designer-because-she-realized-she-needed-to-earn-a-living, a lot the logic from the humanities side of the fence is genuinely puzzling.

    On one hand, when pressed on the limited economic value of these degrees in threads such as this, there is a a common response is that a college/university is not a vocational school, that learning is for it's own merits, and so on.

    What is puzzling is that the majority of people saying this are not financially independent. If they were, why would they be complaining?

    Clearly they require a means to support themselves but have apparently made zero vocational self-investment and instead focused an enormous amount of time, energy, youth and money on a humanities degree that was not intended to do that (and did not/will not).

    What is the explanation for this behavior?

    a. people are basically ignorant of personal finance and the need to suport themselves and thus expended an enormous amount of money and time pursuing a degree with no expectation of it having value in this regard

    b. people are ignorant of the economic realities of humanities degrees (in other words, the vocational argument is a dishonest but convenient argument)

    c. people believe that society should support them in pursuing their non-vocational interests (in other words, it's a vocation and we're bickering about value)

    I'm sure the answers for individuals vary, but all of these suck. Are there other explanations for this self-defeating behavior?

    "What about people who are not good at math" is a terrible excuse (the correct answer is not "PhD in greek history" the correct answer is "study what is needed to find a job").

    As with all things, society directs resources into various buckets, resources are finite, and thus to resolve competition from the buckets society will always prioritize the buckets. There is always relative priority and that corresponds to concrete value and investment.
    posted by rr at 4:18 PM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I see nobody here demanding to be paid for having no skills.

    I see lots of people, including the original article, saying that there obviously is demand for these skills, since every freshman in the country takes composition and even the stereotypical computer science majors take general education courses that might in fact include the much-maligned medieval history. I see lots of people asking why we aren't paying these people with obviously valued skills a living wage. I see lots of people asking when our country became an anti-intellectual cesspool where people neither want to pay higher taxes nor want to pay higher tuition and instead would rather college teaching quality suffers all the while maligning those very teachers for not somehow being superheroes.

    I see no one demanding to be paid for having no skills.
    posted by hydropsyche at 4:32 PM on May 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


    There is always relative priority and that corresponds to concrete value and investment.

    Except for when it doesn't, which is surprisingly often. Ask an economist or a historian about that.
    posted by mek at 4:50 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    saying that there obviously is demand for these skills...I see lots of people asking why we aren't paying these people with obviously valued skills a living wage

    There are lots of businesses that demand skill X which commands a certain skill Y.

    You are confusing "needing to fill X slots" (which is what the schools are doing) with "how we compensate those who fill." You are asserting that these people are worth more than they are being paid -- based on what?

    The market is hardly perfect and is subject to pathological states. As an example, I'd like to work in a particular sub-field of my profession but it turns out to be so appealing that people will work for nearly nothing just to get their portfolio done, work crazy hours, accept terrible 16x7 work situations for months on end, etc. The answer is not "complain that it is not paying a living wage" the answer is "do something else."

    Who are the people who are taking these jobs? Why are they taking them if they have higher value than what they are being paid?

    Something does not make sense.

    since every freshman in the country takes composition and even the stereotypical computer science majors take general education courses that might in fact include the much-maligned medieval history

    How are you distinguishing actual need from what may essentially be makework programs for certain departments?

    ${FOO}101 is not teaching anyone anything of merit. It exists to funnel money to that school since that school is otherwise a pure drain. Participating in the multi-year revision process for the list of core requirements for undergraduates at a very large university made it quite clear that funneling $ was the primary issue.
    posted by rr at 4:50 PM on May 11, 2012


    Except for when it doesn't, which is surprisingly often. Ask an economist or a historian about that.

    "Value" here is "perceived value." And good luck finding a historian or economist who disagrees.
    posted by rr at 4:51 PM on May 11, 2012


    When you said "concrete value" you actually meant "perceived value"? That's a pretty big difference. There are some fields where those two things line up, but there are others where the gulf is enormous (hi2u law school bubble).
    posted by mek at 4:58 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Edit damage (concrete investment -> ... ).
    posted by rr at 5:11 PM on May 11, 2012


    I am frankly baffled at the attitude of smart people in this thread arguing that it's inevitable that only people who do work that industry pays for should get a middle class living. We have previously had a system where a certain amount of non-industrial activity was supported by middle-class salaries. In fact we had that system at a time when lots of scientific and technological discoveries were being made. It obviously can be done.

    You make a strong argument, to me at least, that the benefits of academic institutions are not valued in the marketplace enough that capital is properly allocated to them. The rift between humanities and STEM is a bit surprising to me. I always thought one of the exciting opportunities provided by a university community was the ability to learn other viewpoints and perspectives from the most knowledgeable people. The antagonistic attitudes, even within academia, are very disappointing.

    Unfortunately what may become inevitable is a chronic increase in under-employment due to ever increasing competition and improving technology as the U.S. slowly loses its privileged status in the global economy. On top of that, state and federal budgets are already in horrible shape due in large part to "entitlements" like medicare and state and local pensions. Our previous system that allowed for non-industrial activity at middle-class wages is suffering greatly. The overall economic reality may dictate a lowering of living standards in the west and a rise of living standards elsewhere. The U.S. has probably had the greatest higher education system in the world ever, and for this to be sustainable it must to be done at lower cost.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 5:21 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Our previous system that allowed for non-industrial activity at middle-class wages is suffering greatly.

    No, it isn't:
    The Fortune 500 generated a total of $824.5 billion in earnings last year, up 16.4% over 2010. That beats the previous record of $785 billion, set in 2006 during a roaring economy.
    posted by mek at 5:31 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


    At a good US college or university focused on a true liberal arts education in the classical sense, general education courses are not "make work" to funnel money between departments but the backbone of the curriculum, which helps students develop the skills they need to succeed both in their four year education and in life as educated citizens of the world. When we are teaching non-majors biology, we are helping make more educated teachers and business folk just as surely as the English faculty are ensuring that our poor stereotypical computer science major can actually convey a rational argument in text. I am sorry that your college or university has lost sight of this.
    posted by hydropsyche at 5:32 PM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Krugman has more on the "structural unemployment" myth.
    posted by mek at 5:51 PM on May 11, 2012


    Krugman has more on the "structural unemployment" myth.

    I didn't see any easy answers from Krugman. This is not 1939, and I don't think he is suggesting WWIII

    This article by Stiglitz from a while back is interesting:

    The private sector by itself won’t, and can’t, undertake structural transformation of the magnitude needed—even if the Fed were to keep interest rates at zero for years to come. The only way it will happen is through a government stimulus designed not to preserve the old economy but to focus instead on creating a new one.
    posted by Golden Eternity at 6:08 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Golden Eternity: There doesn't have to be WWIII. Simply put people to work doing the things that must be done, like, I don't know, build bridges, subways and a post-oil infrastructure. Stuff like that. But wait, that doesn't involve killing people, we can't have the government spend money on that! Instead, let's just commit slow economic and cultural suicide in the name of "austerity."
    posted by wuwei at 9:44 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    What is puzzling is that the majority of people saying this are not financially independent. If they were, why would they be complaining?

    There's no reason to think people in this thread aren't financially independent. People in all parts of the academic system are seeing this bad trend and calling for change. Why call for change? If most classes are taught by adjuncts, it is bad for students and it's bad for the university system as a whole.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The argument seems to be that PhDs in Medieval European History and other Western-valued liberal-arts fields should be supported patronage-style because of some inherent value to further studying the normative Western culture.

    Euro-centricism aside, there is no evidence that doctorate degrees in such fields are leading to valuable contriubutions even to Western societies. If people wish to study those fields to PhD levels for personal satisfaction, more power to them. If I were voting with my money, I'd much rather see deeper study of current societal issues or of cultures that are not already well understood.
    posted by SakuraK at 1:09 AM on May 12, 2012


    No. The argument is that people employed by universities to teach students (most of whom are paying a lot of money for tuition) should get paid a living wage to do so. Whether the subject at hand is medieval European history or twentieth-century Chinese history or basic stats or music theory or database design is beside the point - a culture that values education shouldn't be making its educators live off food stamps.
    posted by Catseye at 2:06 AM on May 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


    In better news, though, it's been really good to see our biggest HE-sector union here in the UK - the UCU - start to address this issue with an anti-casualisation committee. I joined the union during a pay dispute when I was in that position myself, and while they were helpful and supportive (and instrumental in getting the dispute resolved), they weren't seen as doing much to help - or even notice - the problem on a national level at the time. Glad that's starting to change.

    That dispute was also pretty telling in itself. Smallish department, employing maybe a dozen of us to teach as 'TAs' (which could mean anything from running seminars on a course someone else had designed to convening your own course), from newish PhD students to jaded and cynical PhDs like me who were teaching at various places while looking for full-time jobs. Between us, we were teaching about half the first- and second-year students, and a smaller but still significant percentage of the others.

    And then the department informed us it was severely cutting our pay while also reconfiguring what it was willing to pay us for, making a lot of those teaching duties - office hours, exam board meetings, marking - compulsory but unpaid. This went down about as well as you can imagine, and those of us more experienced types suggested that we all just refuse to teach anything until they agreed to pay us for the hours they wanted us to work.

    But the new people, the ones who'd just been teaching a semester or two, wouldn't do it. Wouldn't even state any concerns to the department. Because they truly believed that the department was doing them a favour by allowing them to work there at all, and they were afraid that if they were marked as making a fuss in some way, that favour would be withdrawn. Because they truly believed that hourly-paid TA teaching was a necessary apprenticeship for the job they still thought they'd be walking into after they got that PhD, rather than the thing which was coming to replace those jobs. Because they really believed that the department couldn't possibly be violating UK employment law, because "we're their students and they wouldn't do that."

    So a few of us joined the union (which agreed to take us on mid-dispute, thankfully), the union basically cleared its throat, and the department immediately changed its mind. So that worked out okay in the end. And three years later, when the issue of massive pay cuts came up again in slightly different non-employment-law-violating terms, the people who had once been the new folk were now experienced enough to say "Hey, we should refuse to go along with this, this isn't right" - but by then, there was a whole new batch of new people willing to take on any spare teaching going. And so on.

    (I am in a full-time academic job these days and decently paid and very happy with it. Yes, I could probably earn more by doing something else, but this is what I want to do, so I'm fine with that. I am one of the lucky ones. That doesn't mean I don't still feel very strongly indeed about what's happening to all the people who weren't so lucky, and what's happening to higher education as a result.)
    posted by Catseye at 4:33 AM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The argument is that people employed by universities to teach students (most of whom are paying a lot of money for tuition) should get paid a living wage to do so.

    Yes, absolutely. The derail into "humanities vs. STEM" has been interesting, but ultimately distracting from the point of the article which is that at the highest level, educators aren't being paid commensurate to their experience and qualifications. That the article focused on humanities professors has caused this to focus on the *humanities* but the point would be the same for professors of CS or engineering or chemistry etc etc etc.
    posted by sonika at 4:59 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And the process continues, as Congress removes the National Science Foundation's ability to fund Political Science research. While this seems to be directed at climate change research, it's another example of politicians valuing money over knowledge. PZ Meyers on why this is stupid.
    posted by sneebler at 7:06 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    PZ Meyers link here.
    posted by sneebler at 7:07 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Academia has basically collapsed under the weight of people wanting to be academics. We might try launching head hunting outfits that find non-academic employment for the best adjuncts, thus lowering the quality of adjunct teaching overall.
    posted by jeffburdges at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2012


    Academia has basically collapsed under the weight of people wanting to be academics.

    That would be interesting if it were true. Do you have any evidence for this surprising assertion?
    posted by Kwine at 8:38 AM on May 12, 2012


    I've seen a lot of people get PhDs and struggle finding jobs afterwards in various fields. I've also worked with adjuncts on union things (the librarians and lecturers are part of the same union on my campus). It's hard out there for sure, but the sense of entitlement is hard for me to grasp. Why does having an advanced degree entitle you to a job? It is good question. Should adjuncts be paid a living wage? Most definitely. Is education systematically being devalued? Yes, and it's not just the humanities/social sciences. The problem for me is the assumption that just because you got the PhD, that a job should exist. If I thought that would be the case, I would have gone on to study Middle Low German and and the best translation of Reynke de Vos into Modern English, but I knew that wouldn't happen so now I'm doing something different.

    The other thing that bugs me about the sad stories of PhDs who can't get jobs out of school (from all disciplines) is that sometimes, they didn't do enough as students. I know a guy who was a great engineer but didn't publish before his dissertation. He couldn't get a teaching or research job after he graduated, but a lot of his peers did. Dude never published. I just tried to find publications for Bruninga-Matteau, and she's only published her dissertation as far as I can tell.
    posted by kendrak at 10:02 AM on May 12, 2012


    Why does having an advanced degree entitle you to a job? It is good question. Should adjuncts be paid a living wage? Most definitely.

    It doesn't seem like you're grasping that the latter pretty much implies the former. There is no surplus of PhDs relative to the work that needs to be done; there's only a surplus relative to the proportion of that work that gets done under fair, secure, living-wage-and-benefits working conditions.
    posted by RogerB at 10:11 AM on May 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


    What do you mean by "There is no surplus of PhDs relative to the work that needs to be done"? Are there schools that can't find people to do the jobs? Or that it'd be nice if there were more professors doing the work? I think the system is broken in a lot of ways, and the reliance on non-tenured adjuncts has created a rather substantial mess, but I really can't see how the numbers add up. I've read through this entire thread and I haven't seen figures that suggest there's an unfilled demand for these types of teachers.
    posted by kendrak at 10:26 AM on May 12, 2012


    The problem for me is the assumption that just because you got the PhD, that a job should exist.

    The jobs do exist. Undergraduate enrollment is going up up up. In California, the CSU system - which is distinct from the UC system in budget and governance - "... prepares about 60% of the teachers in the state, 40% of the engineering graduates, and more graduates in business, agriculture, communications, health, education and public administration than all other California universities and colleges combined. Altogether, about half the bachelor's degrees and a third of the master's degrees awarded annually in California are from the CSU." [cite]

    In 2010/2011, CSU raised tuition 22% in response to state budget cuts of 24%. It also voted to raise campus president salaries in order to attract and keep the "best" candidates (after a massive outcry, they backed down on this - increases to president salaries will now be raised from outside sources). Faculty salaries are, on average, 15% lower than they are at comparable institutions, so I guess one needn't concern oneself with attracting the best and the brightest to teaching and research.

    People act like it doesn't matter if some English lit PhD can't get a job. Who do you think is supposed to be teaching the 40% of the state's engineering majors basic composition? I have known people who were unable to graduate on time because they couldn't get the courses they needed because there weren't enough sections because there wasn't money in the budget to hire enough instructors. Choices were made about where that money went, and it wasn't going to greedyguts snobs with PhDs in basketweaving.

    This is like paying the president of a widget manufacturer a million percent raise in order to be "competitive" in the industry and never putting money in to keep your machines and the people who actually run them functional. It's hideously shortsighted.
    posted by rtha at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


    What do you mean by "There is no surplus of PhDs relative to the work that needs to be done"?

    (Number of courses needing to be taught) ÷ (average course load of a fairly compensated teaching position at that institution) ≥ (number of PhDs needing employment in the field).

    You can read Marc Bousquet's book How the University Works for a fuller version of the analysis. Briefly, the point you may be missing is that adjuncts and TAs often teach onerously over-full-time course loads in order to earn enough to live. If adjunct and TA work were compensated at anything even remotely comparable to a living wage, you wouldn't see people teaching insane overtime course loads, often at multiple institutions, to try to make rent — so it would take a few more PhDs to staff the same number of courses as are presently taught at most institutions. That would more than take care of the "surplus" of unemployed PhDs.
    posted by RogerB at 10:39 AM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


    As academics are not subject to predation, their population obeys the logistic equation, Kwine, meaning they consume all available resources until starvation controls their numbers. Read The Big Crunch by David Goodstein.

    There is most definitely a surplus of PhDs relative to the work that our ruling class is interested in us paying for, RogerB. If you eliminated adjunct and teaching assistant positions, then maybe you'd resolve the problem by closing down half the poorer quality graduate programs, but currently we vastly over produce PhDs relative to the number of academic jobs.
    posted by jeffburdges at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    cf. No return to normal
    In the midst of the current crisis, which will be long and protracted, many on the left want to return to the golden age of public education. They naïvely imagine that the crisis of the present is an opportunity to demand the return of the past. But social programs that depended upon high profit rates and vigorous economic growth are gone. We cannot be tempted to make futile grabs at the irretrievable while ignoring the obvious fact that there can be no autonomous "public university" in a capitalist society. The university is subject to the real crisis of capitalism, and capital does not require liberal education programs. The function of the university has always been to reproduce the working class by training future workers according to the changing needs of capital. The crisis of the university today is the crisis of the reproduction of the working class, the crisis of a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers. We cannot free the university from the exigencies of the market by calling for the return of the public education system. We live out the terminus of the very market logic upon which that system was founded. The only autonomy we can hope to attain exists beyond capitalism.

    What this means for our struggle is that we can't go backward. The old student struggles are the relics of a vanished world. In the 1960s, as the post-war boom was just beginning to unravel, radicals within the confines of the university understood that another world was possible. Fed up with technocratic management, wanting to break the chains of a conformist society, and rejecting alienated work as unnecessary in an age of abundance, students tried to align themselves with radical sections of the working class. But their mode of radicalization, too tenuously connected to the economic logic of capitalism, prevented that alignment from taking hold. Because their resistance to the Vietnam war focalized critique upon capitalism as a colonial war-machine, but insufficiently upon its exploitation of domestic labor, students were easily split off from a working class facing different problems. In the twilight era of the post-war boom, the university was not subsumed by capital to the degree that it is now, and students were not as intensively proletarianized by debt and a devastated labor market.

    That is why our struggle is fundamentally different. The poverty of student life has become terminal: there is no promised exit. If the economic crisis of the 1970s emerged to break the back of the political crisis of the 1960s, the fact that today the economic crisis precedes the coming political uprising means we may finally supersede the cooptation and neutralization of those past struggles. There will be no return to normal.
    posted by kliuless at 11:10 AM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I have kind of an apocalyptic view of the future of higher education, particularly for fields which are primarily funded by tuition revenue rather than government research grants. Reduction in government funding has already severely distorted the goals of both research and teaching in academia, but I think the decline in funding in the US has really only just started. Massive inflation in tuition has made up for some of the decline so far, but this was enabled partly by easy credit for student loans which is probably about to dry up due to poor loan performance, and also enabled partly by a broadly held view of higher education as a path to a comfortable living which just doesn't stand scrutiny anymore. So as bad as it is now for Melissa Bruninga-Matteau (the not-a-welfare-queen from the OP 500 comments ago) I suspect it's going to get much worse over the next five years.

    I think the argument about whether STEM is more important than the humanities really misses the point. Academia seems to be operating in a tragically shortsighted, financialized way, and it's not just hurting the humanities. I'm working in biomedical research, surely one of the most economically valued academic fields, and the distortions here are different, but still quite severe. And the scrambling for research grant funding gets tighter and more desperate every year. Writing grants is basically all my advisor does, to the severe detriment of the actual research which goes on in his lab, (we teach each other, pretty much), and I know a guy at a top-tier research institution who recently received an institutional award simply for bringing in $1M of overhead money. The award had nothing to do with his research or teaching, it was just anointing him as a golden-egg goose.

    This financialization of life seems to be one side of the real issue. As long as there are academics who can't imagine any life outside of the academy, it is economically rational for universities to take advantage of them by working them to death in poor jobs. As long as the academy sees academic relationships as driven primarily by financial incentives, that kind of exploitation is going to be "just the way things work."

    The other side seems to be a failure of imagination on the parts of people who are being exploited. The problems with the humanities as a career track have been clear for a very long time. I don't exactly blame the exploited for not seeing this because they have given themselves over to a system (i.e., academia) which has hidden it from them. But work in the humanities is based on modern and post-modern thought arising from emancipatory values of personal freedom through critical thinking, or at least I think it tells itself that, so I think it's incredibly ironic that people like Melissa haven't been able to turn those values to inquiry about their own lives. How on earth did this happen to her? In some ways, her life seems like a counter-example to all the claims in this thread that we need the humanities to help us understand the directions our lives have taken and the directions they should be taking. Not that I disagree with those claims... it's just that it doesn't seem to be working out that way, on a personal level, because Melissa seems to be just as much a slave to the academy's agenda as a hard-core knee-jerk objectivist programmer is to the agenda of economic rationalism, and she seems much worse off for it.

    I really enjoyed the stories in this thread about people who've found some creative way to make a living outside the careers expected of them by academia. I know that's going to be hard for someone who's in a hole as deep as Melissa's but I suspect that many people will have no choice to make a similar shift.
    posted by Estragon at 11:58 AM on May 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Er, "no choice but to make a similar shift."
    posted by Estragon at 12:02 PM on May 12, 2012


    But social programs that depended upon high profit rates and vigorous economic growth are gone. We cannot be tempted to make futile grabs at the irretrievable while ignoring the obvious fact that there can be no autonomous "public university" in a capitalist society.

    That actually doesn't seem true to me at all and it's strange that it's coming from an Occupy blog. The U.S. economy generated 15 trillion dollars last year. That's enough money to make 15 million millionaires, in one year.

    There is probably enough money sloshing around for every U.S. citizen to be a millionaire. I personally think that the employment prospects of the academic class don't need to be too different from what everyone else faces and ideas like lifetime tenure are really pushing their luck, but there is no "economic logic of capitalism" that prevents our society from having a more robust public university system than we've ever had, and we ought to, humanities and all.
    posted by XMLicious at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    There's no reason to think people in this thread aren't financially independent. People in all parts of the academic system are seeing this bad trend and calling for change. Why call for change? If most classes are taught by adjuncts, it is bad for students and it's bad for the university system as a whole.

    I don't expect or need my activities related to personal interests to pay me a living wage.

    Furthermore, the assertion that adjuncts are bad for students seems rather self-serving and frankly undemonstrated.
    posted by rr at 12:55 PM on May 12, 2012


    jeffburdges, given your response to RogerB, isn't it better to explain the collapse of academia (insofar as it has collapsed or is collapsing) by pointing to the systematic lowering of government funding for academia rather than the number of people seeking work as academics?

    If there's climate change that reduces the amount of fertile land, we don't explain the resulting collapse of the farming industry by saying that too many people wanted to work as farmers, right?
    posted by Kwine at 1:12 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Furthermore, the assertion that adjuncts are bad for students seems rather self-serving and frankly undemonstrated.

    Can't tell if serious... the relationship between teacher experience and student learning outcomes is probably one of the most heavily studied and well-understood relationships of all time. Just because you can't use Google Scholar doesn't mean it's bullshit.
    posted by mek at 1:22 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I don't expect or need my activities related to personal interests to pay me a living wage.

    Did you miss the part where this is a job that actually exists?
    posted by Summer at 1:26 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Can't tell if serious... the relationship between teacher experience and student learning outcomes is probably one of the most heavily studied and well-understood relationships of all time. Just because you can't use Google Scholar doesn't mean it's bullshit.

    Adjuncts teach more classes in their career. They spend more time actually teaching. How is this less experience?
    posted by rr at 1:32 PM on May 12, 2012


    Adjuncts generally teach more classes per semester, because they must if they're to make ends meet. The more classes a person is teaching the less time they can spend on each. Someone who is teaching 6-8 classes per semester has less time for students than someone who is teaching 3-4 classes per semester. This should be obvious.

    Adjuncts have less time to spend per class (they are paid very poorly and generally teach more classes or work another job). Thus they must cut corners, such as assigning fewer papers to grade, or grading them less intensively. They switch over to multiple choice exams rather than assign work that forces students to develop their ideas and their writing ability.

    Adjuncts generally do not have permanent office space, and often must commute from campus to campus, so they are less available to students during office hours and other non-class times. They can't afford to put in all the extra hours that fulltime faculty do.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It's also bad for students even if their own classes aren't taught by adjuncts. If their school moves away from a tenure system toward a majority-adjunct system, the quality of education will suffer.

    Adjuncts do not have a say in the curriculum or in other administrative matters at the college. Tenure, for all that it's derided, provides faculty with the job security to stand up to the administration to maintain high academic standards. Generally, administrations would prefer lower standards that keep students and parents happy, and generally it's faculty who stand up to that. Administrations would prefer to give credit for baloney classes that are trendy and cool for brochures, but faculty stand up to that and insist on harder classes that teach students more. Tenure allows a science faculty to stand up for the teaching of evolution or other topics that politically-motivated administrators or state legislatures might prefer to cut.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Adjuncts generally teach more classes per semester, because they must if they're to make ends meet. The more classes a person is teaching the less time they can spend on each. Someone who is teaching 6-8 classes per semester has less time for students than someone who is teaching 3-4 classes per semester. This should be obvious.

    Adjuncts have less time to spend per class (they are paid very poorly and generally teach more classes or work another job). Thus they must cut corners, such as assigning fewer papers to grade, or grading them less intensively. They switch over to multiple choice exams rather than assign work that forces students to develop their ideas and their writing ability.


    Implicit here is that professors _don't_ do these things. Did you go to university?

    Professors routinely re-use materials from semester to semester if they have taught a class previously. Office hours are a few hours a week. Grading is done by TAs. One professor I encountered lifted his course wholesale from another University a bit further north.

    In any case, the nut of your argument is that adjuncts are overloaded; on that I think we agree, though it is hardly unique to this situation (or academia). Overload is not inherent to the use of adjunct professors.

    The issue you are getting at is that the institutions have devalued the actual task of teaching by implicitly reducing the time allocated to it and ancillary tasks.

    The answer there isn't "no adjuncts" and "tenured professors teaching 1-2 classes a semester (when they cannot buy out with funding)" as that, frankly, is the reason adjuncts are financially appealing to the institutions.

    The issue has nothing to do with adjuncts as a concept. Non-tenured lecturers present exactly the same problem and always have.

    It's amazing how blind people are to the simple fact that the framing of the discussion is coming from the vested interests: tenured faculty.
    posted by rr at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2012


    I don't understand you, rr.

    Re-using material from previous semesters is fine and often the best way to proceed, since each semester lets you see what works best and what to cut. Starting over wholesale would be madness.

    Adjuncts are overloaded and underpaid and underresourced, and those pressures force them to cut corners that full-paid faculty don't have to cut. You say we agree on this. Yet you don't see why a rise in adjuncts and a lowering of the numbers of full-paid faculty would be bad for students?
    posted by LobsterMitten at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


    the framing of the discussion is coming from the vested interests

    Well, this article in the Chronicle is clearly coming from the newish adjunct group. They have been pressing the adjuncts-on-food-stamps line in order to draw attention to this and force action. In general tenured faculty have been fairly lax about this situation; they talk about it sometimes but haven't been effective in pressing for action to stop it. It's the adjuncts who are starting to organize.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 2:11 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If you want to rule people, first rule their imaginations. If you want to rule their imaginations, teach them to be sceptical of the things that can free them. And if you want to teach that kind of scepticism, begin by telling people to think for themselves, then present them with facts that flatter them.

    Thank you.
    posted by jokeefe at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2012


    It's amazing how blind people are to the simple fact that the framing of the discussion is coming from the vested interests: tenured faculty.

    I didn't realize that the liberal media was being run by a shadowy cabal of tenured faculty, thanks for keeping us sheeple informed.
    posted by mek at 4:37 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


    That's my point - you don't have to be good at computer science to earn a living: you just have to be decent at it.

    Mediocrity! It's the American way!


    My experience is that once you graduate from a CS program, you go to work as a software engineer, and get asked to write yet another web app to maintain data in a database. If you can program, are somewhat curious about the field, pay attention to details, and (most importantly) aren't a lazy, sloppy worker, you could fill a large number of developer jobs.
    posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:15 PM on May 12, 2012


    If new farmers cannot find fertile land because old farmers own it all, then we certainly explain the resulting underemployment by saying that too many people wanted to work as farmers. We're fortunate that people dislike farming enough that by-far most find new jobs happily. Academics honestly love their subject, which makes leaving harder emotionally, but that's what they must do.

    I observed that RogerB's claims overlook the fact that institutions poorly qualified to grant PhDs are granting PhDs to supply themselves with inexpensive teaching assistants. If we eliminate enough graduate student positions, then eventually the PhD production rate equals the retirement rate plus industry's consumption rate, i.e. no food stamps.

    How should we punish weaker programs for exploiting teaching assistant labor? We could revoke federally backed student aid for any school who's PhDs fail to obtain an 80% rate of tenure or "relevant non-academic employment".

    We could instead train vast numbers of people in all manor of interesting cultural pursuits and employ them in said cultural pursuits, but that's pretty unlikely just now.
    posted by jeffburdges at 6:34 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    the fact that institutions poorly qualified to grant PhDs are granting PhDs to supply themselves with inexpensive teaching assistants

    This.

    And those institutions have an unlimited supply of potential fodder too. A buddy of mine works at a department whose grad college is maybe 75th or below in the nation. Each year they have about 20 slots for Phds, they get about 25 applications from america and 250 from China.

    I can't imagine what those american graduates are going to do with themselves when they graduate, if people from top programs are having the difficulties they seem to be having.
    posted by Chekhovian at 6:40 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    institutions poorly qualified to grant PhDs are granting PhDs to supply themselves with inexpensive teaching assistants

    This is actually discussed at length in the Bousquet book that I keep mentioning — he perhaps-too-cutely argues that we need to start thinking of this kind of PhD as the waste product (PDF link) of the exploitation of graduate student labor. The best, simplest solution is just to fight the cost advantage of exploiting grad-student labor; if government, labor, and professional organizations all exerted their leverage and required that courses be compensated roughly equivalently and fairly no matter who is teaching them, then the incentive to exploit TA labor could be eliminated. Given the choice, if the cost were even close to equivalent, everyone would prefer to hire a PhD rather than a grad student; quality of instruction would improve, and the "apprenticeship" myth that people have talked about here (which is one of the things propping up the exploitation of grad-student labor) would be much diminished. All it takes is for all teaching to be compensated on even approximately the same scale in a given field, no matter who is doing it.
    posted by RogerB at 6:48 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Psychology depts seem to be one of the few "equilibrated" fields. A friend of mine just got his degree from a major school and got a tenure track position at a good school before he'd even graduated. Everyone that graduates seems to land on their feet?

    Why?

    There isn't the hue demand for cheap labor in either the research or the teaching. Most advisors have one student every ten years. Plus you can get a job and form your own practice etc.
    posted by Chekhovian at 7:14 PM on May 12, 2012


    Your friend is lucky, Chekhovian. Postdocs in psych are becoming more common; I know a few people (with PhDs from name institutions, and publications in top journals) who have postdocs (one is on her second). It also probably helps that your friend just graduated, instead of graduating 3 or 4 years ago (when many faculty searches were delayed or outright cancelled; I even heard of a few offers being rescinded).

    It does help that there is an "industry" exit, although forming your own practice is pretty different from academic work (is that switch even really doable? I'm not psychology, so I wouldn't know). Fields without nonacademic options do have more of a buildup of strong graduates who don't have tenure track positions.

    But really, I suggest you look more broadly-- and watch what happens to psychology over the next decade. It might be hitting some fields later or less strongly than others, but the changeover to temporary positions is happening to everyone.
    posted by nat at 11:00 PM on May 12, 2012


    We used to grow the supply of 'land' because we thought it was a public good. Now we grow it a lot less. That Big Crunch article mentions some of the ways this has changed: GI bill, national security research waning after the end of the Cold War. There are a million other ways.

    I think that growing academia is still a public good: both the researching arm and the teaching arm. Your proposed solution involves further funding cuts. Just say, "I'm not interested in paying for growing the supply of academics" instead of passing the buck to a natural law.
    posted by Kwine at 11:30 PM on May 12, 2012


    Academia cannot continue growing that way because most Americans start collage already. All the most fertile "land" here has been exhausted.

    Yes, you could increase the carrying capacity K in the logistic equation dA/dt = r A (1 - A/K) by decreasing class sizes and increasing graduation rates, but you'll still produce (r-1) K unemployable PhDs after a few growth years. You must either decrease the reproduction rate r that represents how many new PhD students each tenured faculty member trains, or else make academics happier leaving academia.

    You reduce r by creating faculty jobs that never train graduate students, either by focusing on undergraduate education or by building research groups that train fewer PhDs, but both represent fundamental shifts in academia that cannot happen overnight, and both run contrary to our current optimization and growth oriented zeitgeist. Ain't happening soon.

    All the funding "cuts" I proposed target exploitive practices directly, very much what Bousquet proposes, according to RogerB. In fact, these cuts are effectively funding increases since (a) they'd force paying academics a living wage and (b) they'd completely defund the for-profit degree mills like University of Phoenix, who presently consume around 80% of federally backed financial aid, without contributing anything to academia. Ain't easy, the for-profit schools lobbyists fight any such reduction tooth and nail, but we understand how this should work.

    There isn't any solution for current academics except finding an industry job that'll make you happy though.
    posted by jeffburdges at 1:18 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


    As colleges consider themselves to be in the business of getting people to pay for degrees rather than delivering education, the prospect of using cheap adjunct and grad student labor rather than creating a deeper academic and research institution through the use of tenure and long-term positions becomes more palatable. It's not that on average the grad students are just as good--but the colleges don't give a shit whether they're just as good, as they don't care if the students they turn out are literate or not.

    The specialist in medieval history is the one recovering information about the Council of Nicea and the construction of the King James Bible--which, in a time when the clash between secularism and religious faith, with Christianity at the forefront of the latter, I would argue is particularly pertinent. The political science professor and literature professor might remind someone of the existence of the actual writings and philosophy of the USA's Founding Fathers, as opposed to the jingoist ultra-religious claptrap the right-wing would like us to think they believed--I would also argue this is particularly relevant to contemporary issues. And as for the historians in general, well, I took a class with 20 other undergrads this semester run by the university's honors program, and only one of them knew what D-Day was, and that was the British exchange student who studied history himself.

    Look man, maybe it's not necessary for everyone to know Jackson Pollock's favorite brand of tea or whatever. But the fact that this many supposedly bright young people had not heard of goddamned D-Day indicates that maybe the continued defunding of our educational programs, especially our humanities programs, is not working out so well for us.
    posted by schroedinger at 1:49 AM on May 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Also, I see this as a larger trend in our country where people seem to be under the impression that everything must be run like a business, because apparently having an MBA makes you qualified to know how best to effectively produce research, or teach elementary-school children math, or reform prisoners in prisons, or run a goddamn country. If I recall, in businesses people can be fired and replaced. If you want the country to be run like a business, then does that mean you like the possibility of being fired and replaced as a citizen? Because gosh, that would be a great way to deal with our unproductive members, ship them into the sea and bring in some hard-working immigrants.
    posted by schroedinger at 1:53 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I see income inequality mentioned once in this thread. It's 100% responsible for this problem, not just for academics in the humanities but for all workers in all fields.

    Basically, everyone is expected to do more while being paid less, while overall wealth in the nation keeps going up. The wealth gets increasingly concentrated at the top while competition increases for the increasingly small proportion of revenue allocated towards wages.

    If money was more equally distributed in this nation, it would move around and do useful things, local governments would be able to fund their educational institutions, and universities might not have to cut quite so many corners and pay their staff crap.

    What we're seeing is middle class as blood sacrifice: young workers are now expected to invest an increasingly larger amount of money towards their own education. The companies that employ them reap all the rewards from this investment while covering little of the actual cost. Worst of all, the system floods the market with rotating groups of workers: lawyers one decade, CS majors the next, etc. which means that companies can get the very best at a discount and everyone else gets shifted over to whatever empty jobs are available.

    The ugly truth is we just don't have enough work to employ everyone in this country. I'm not sure what the solution is, but it definitely isn't allowing wealth to continue to accumulate at the very top.
    posted by Deathalicious at 11:52 AM on May 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


    One problem in the current discussion is the confusion of societal value with market value. The market values things that in aggregate (relativelly) short-term demand. Society values things with longer term benefits that are hard to quantify but create the foundation and structure for society (and the market) to function. Thus, basic research and some types of liberal arts research, as well as the value of liberal education to the quality of social decision making) do not garner high wages but society and ultimately the markets would fail in the long run without them. Investing in such activities requires conscientious thought regarding these long-term consequences that lie beyond the reach of economic markets.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 7:40 PM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


    "Now Classics is weird, it's a kind of history-dead language-lit hybrid, but each individual bit has its own bit of merit, more historical data for the great, grinding understand humans machine (Athenian taxation schemes! Societies with technology levels alarmingly like the mud hut condemned quadrant of humanity!) or part of the underpinning of lit that isn't the crazy weird dark ages Christian stuff. I know the whole poetry of human thought stuff is a hard sell, to let me put it this way: do you like stories where the characters are named things like "Virtue" and "Indolence" and they chirpily tell you how they will guide the soul into life ever lasting, or would you rather a self mutilating mother fucker begs his uncle-cum-brother in law to look after his girls? A lot of Classics is like visiting your great-granny for perogies; it's old, it dodders around and it probably won't birth new life at this point, but come on, it's got ladies ax murdering their husbands in bathtubs followed by a society of people who used numbers to name their kids."

    Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god. My eyes bugged out like a cartoon character's upon reading this. As a joint honours classics and poli sci major, I must take up arms to defend my cohort.

    The ethos (yes, another example of that fusty classics jargon) of this comment completely misses the point that many others have been trying to make, namely that the value inherent to a field of study is not the individual data points that can be gleaned from it to make it relevant to society. One gains so much more through the study of the classics. Athenian taxation schemes? Let's talk Athenian democracy! So many of my political science courses referenced classical thought. People have been ruminating on political systems, art, and religion for so long - is there not true value in gaining a sense of continuity with the canon of humanity in all its wonderful achievements and artistry?

    Also, the "crazy weird dark ages Christian stuff"? I'm working on my final paper for a master's level course called Early Modern Political Thought. To that end, I'm reading a book called The Foundations of Modern Political Thought by Quentin Skinner. It would absolutely floor anyone who participated in that seminar or read even a chapter of that book how directly relevant such thought is to the underpinnings of today's society. The origins of the divergence in power between church and state and the emergence of the concept of of sovereignty are just two of the things I can think of. Gaining a perspective on these things truly helps me understand the world around me today. I can see this understanding being valuable to having a unique and marketable skill set; deride me for my naïveté if you like, but a former Classics professor I know of has a lucrative consulting job with a company in Russia that lays oil pipelines. Oddly enough, classically trained thinkers find their niches in the world. We have since time immemorial. If I want to, I probably could go into "the real world." I think academia has real and directly applicable value, especially post-colonial and feminist thought, and I would absolutely love to become an academic. It saddens me that I feel I must turn away from that dream because the Powers That Be have made a lot of truly asinine decisions. I do not understand how anyone could have anything but the greatest sympathy for those who have been reduced to poverty for following their dream, especially when in a time not too far removed from ours it was certainly not unattainable.

    The rest of the statements also piss me off so much. Reducing the entire value of the "poetry of human thought" to the gory and sexy bits? What in the ever-living fuck? The Iliad, the Odyssey? The founding of a nation, the trials a man faces to get back to his family? The poetry of Homer and Catullus, the orations of Cicero, the histories of Herodotus? Also losing sights of the pain and suffering that made those works classical tragedies in the first place? I can't even ...

    But possibly the bit that hurts the most is

    "A lot of Classics is like visiting your great-granny for perogies; it's old, it dodders around and it probably won't birth new life at this point ..."

    Classics constantly births new life. Excellent Classics departments are electric with activity which sparks intellectual curiosity and a deeper understanding of the roots of our society. Classics students are not zombies shuffling about in a mausoleum. We're enthusiastic people with a deadly command of grammar, the sensibilities of words derived from Latin and Ancient Greek, and the thought that underpins Western Civilization. Come for us at your peril; we will throw you to our lions with no qualms and laugh as you are torn limb from limb. (Most of us are much more mild-mannered than that, but certainly not me when I'm defending our honor at one in the morning.)
    posted by Devika at 10:36 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


    wolfsdream01:
    You make a compelling argument that "people have a right to appreciate whatever they like and if you're asking other people to give you more money, you have to offer them something that they value, not something that you think they should value. " It does make sense, that as long as people are able to get others to pay them money in the market, then their job has value. If they can't get others to pay enough to survive, then their job has no value, and it's basically a hobby. Right?


    Sorry, Wuwei, I didn't mean to ignore the question you directed at me. There's just a lot of traffic on this thread and I didn't notice it until now.

    In answer to your question, I think you're oversimplifying somewhat. Something can be a hobby and still have value. (Most art falls into this category, in my opinion.) However, what makes me angry is when the public is asked to fund such hobbies, because then you have a situation where one person is imposing their views on others.

    For example, some people are going on about how the humanities and culture are "what makes life worth living," and I think most of the people who make that case are people whom themselves could not live without culture, and are irrationally projecting that view onto others. There are actually quite a lot of people who could live quite well without art or culture as long as their basic needs were met. (Just go to any third world country; you can't throw a stick without hitting one.) If you want medieval PhDs or English majors to prosper, that's fine - but do it with your money. I don't see what gives people the right to claim that my tax dollars should fund some cultural aesthetic that I find pretentious and self-indulgent. I want my money to go to worthier causes.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2012


    FOR A VARIETY of reasons, then, human inquiry needs a synthesis, in which history and anthropology and literature and art play their parts. But there is still a deeper reason for the enduring importance of the humanities. Many scientists and commentators on science have been led to view the sciences as a value-free zone, and it is easy to understand why. When the researcher enters the lab, many features of the social world seem to have been left behind. The day’s work goes on without the need for confronting large questions about how human lives can or should go. Research is insulated because the lab is a purpose-built place, within which the rules of operation are relatively clear and well-known. Yet on a broader view, which explores the purposes and their origins, it becomes clear that judgments of the significance of particular questions profoundly affect the work done and the environments in which it is done. Behind the complex and often strikingly successful practices of contemporary science stands a history of selecting specific aspects of the world for investigation. Bits of nature do not shout out “Examine me!” Throughout history, instead, innovative scientists have built a number of lampposts under which their successors can look. It is always worth considering whether the questions that now seem most significant demand looking elsewhere for new sources of illumination.

    - The Trouble with Scientism: Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge. (via aldaily)
    posted by jquinby at 7:08 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


    THE MOST OBVIOUS EXPLANATION for the difficulties of the Geisteswissenschaften, the humanities and the study of history and society, is that they deal with highly complex systems. Concrete results are often achieved in particular instances: historians and anthropologists are able to be precise and accurate by sacrificing generality, by clear-headedly disavowing the attempt to provide any grand overarching theory.

    This is a wonderful summary of the challenge of the humanities - the things studied in the humanities (culture, social relations, etc) are so very complex that coming up with universal models (the ideal of the natural sciences) is almost impossible. Most historians are emphatic empiricists - they demand rigorous evidence for their conclusions (and medievalists are some of the most empirically driven of all) - but to make concrete conclusions, they have to limit the scope. In my research, my overall conclusion appears to have been that generalizing from one village to another only 20 miles away has distorted our understanding of the history of that particular region. (Try selling that as interesting to a committee: "In conclusion, it's complicated.")

    That said, some of the historians and social scientists working on a secondary level (reading lots of primary research and synthesizing it) have come out with some interesting over-arching theories and approaches. James Scott began his theorizing with his own research in south-east Asia, but soon started using historical research from all over the world to support his ideas - and they are some very interesting and useful approaches/models.
    posted by jb at 7:32 AM on May 14, 2012


    I don't see what gives people the right to claim that my tax dollars should fund some cultural aesthetic that I find pretentious and self-indulgent. I want my money to go to worthier causes.

    It would advance the discussion if we had many concrete examples of things you do consider worthy of funding, rather than a little bit of strawmannery about medieval history. However, there's still very little word in this discussion on which scientific pursuits warrant public funding. Which of the following types of scientific activity are sufficiently worthy causes to warrant public funding, and, for each, why or why not?

    1. Drug discovery, clinical trials, etc.? (Variables here: this tends to be very expensive, hit-or-miss, and generally has enormous non-public funding already; on the other hand, the results are very often incredibly profitable and sometimes socially beneficial. As with other types of very profitable research, there is a well-documented history of scientific fraud, or the use of the fruits of the research to defraud the public (see paroxetine). Should pharmaceutical research receive public funding?)

    2. Space exploration involving humans in space? (This has in the past led to serious engineering progress, and has also had high propaganda value. On the other hand, AFAIK, astronomers/cosmologists would generally say that, for the purposes of doing astronomy/cosmology, money is better spent in other ways.)

    3. Radio astronomy? (Let's even leave aside, SETI, here.)

    4. Giant particle accelerators? (This article is very interesting. )

    5. Development of cryptographic algorithms/protocols? (The internet/much of modern commerce, etc. depends heavily on strong cryptography. On the other hand, the government historically has a huge aversion to certain uses of cryptography by private citizens, basically believing it not in the public interest.)

    6. Relatedly, but somewhat more abstractly, what about computational complexity theory? Is it in the public interest to find out whether P=NP?

    7. Should paleontologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, etc. receive public funds to study human evolution?

    8. Should geological research be funded by taxpayer money, or is that best left to petroleum companies?

    9. There are complex dependencies between different fields at different levels of abstraction. Should public money be used to pay people to study homotopy theory, or Lie groups, or K-theory, independently of their potential applications? Should public money be spent on fundamental physics research? If the answer to the latter is "yes", and the answer to the former is "no", please explain how you propose to make this work. If the answer to the latter is "no", please explain why attempts to understand how the universe works, at a very fundamental level, are less worthy of public money than lowering the taxes of the extremely wealthy.

    11. You continually mention an interest in and respect for logic. The study of logic is pursued in mathematics departments and in philosophy departments at many universities, although, as I understand it, specific subfields of logic are considered, probably for historical reasons, to fall under the purview of either mathematics or philosophy*. Which, if any, parts of research in logic should receive public funds?

    *Can someone tell me if I am wrong about this? I sort of had the impression that, say, modal logic happens in philosophy departments and model theory in math departments, but IANAL(ogician) and I'm not certain how this works. I'm counting CS as a subfield of math for the purposes of this question, too, I guess.
    posted by kengraham at 7:37 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Not only are the methods deployed within humanistic domains—say, in attributions of musical scores to particular composers or of pictures to particular artists—as sophisticated and rigorous as the techniques deployed by paleontologists or biochemists, but in many instances they are the same. The historical linguists who recognize connections among languages or within a language at different times, and the religious scholars who point out the affiliations among different texts, use methods equivalent to those that have been deployed ever since Darwin in the study of the history of life. Indeed, Darwin’s paleontology borrowed the method from early nineteenth-century studies of the history of languages.

    another great point - and to add to it: I once heard a talk given by a very well-known biologist explaining how they had applied the software developed to track genetic changes to different surviving copies of the same medieval text (I believe it was Chaucer) to see if they could use the mutations in the text (substituting one word for another, often similar one) to work out the genealogy of the texts.

    I do wish that the humanities embraced the power of computing more enthusiastically. I've encountered/witnessed quite a bit of resistance to the use of computers in the humanities. The first is personnel-based: people in the humanities don't traditionally have any training in computers, and the current generation of leaders in the humanities (mostly in their 50s and 60s) include a great many people who are functionally computer-illiterate. The in-coming generation is a bit better, but there are still many people who seem to see the humanities as a computer-free refuge, rather than seeing the potential usefulness of digital tools to their research (even simple ones like data-basing and GIS, let alone more sophisticated analysis). But there are also institutional barriers: perhaps because those who lead the field don't use computers, there is very little institutional support for teaching computing or making those resources available to people in the humanities. There are few or no classes, labs or staff to assist or support research using computers. A sociologist friend of mine had access to programmers who could be hired to write analysis software for her project; historians have to use existing software or just happen to know how to code themselves (or team up with biologists who have awesome genetic analysis software).
    posted by jb at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The Trouble with Scientism:

    This word needs to be shot through the head to be put out of its misery.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 7:56 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


    If you want medieval PhDs or English majors to prosper, that's fine - but do it with your money. I don't see what gives people the right to claim that my tax dollars should fund some cultural aesthetic that I find pretentious and self-indulgent. I want my money to go to worthier causes.

    Oh, the hubris.
    posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Oh! Do I get to play too?

    I don't want my tax dollars going to
    - subsidize suburban roads
    - tax incentives to large-scale businesses
    - any private prisons or security (aka mercenaries)

    I could keep going.
    posted by jb at 8:52 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Oh! Do I get to play too?

    I don't want my tax dollars going to
    - subsidize suburban roads
    - tax incentives to large-scale businesses
    - any private prisons or security (aka mercenaries)

    I could keep going.


    Please feel free. I agree with you on most of these points. There is a staggering amount of government waste already (some of which you pointed out), and the fact that taxpayer dollars subsidize large scale businesses like Liberty Mutual while their CEO spends millions of dollars simply redecorating his office is a travesty. As for private prisons, we are in agreement there too - having a prison-industrial complex inevitably leads to a artificially created need to fill those prisons.

    What I don't understand is how you can point out multiple cases of grotesque waste and act as if they justify wasting money on other things also. Wouldn't a better solution be to stop those programs as well, rather than to effectively say "screw it, we're wasting so much money already, what's a little more?"
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:06 AM on May 14, 2012


    I don't see what gives people the right to claim that my tax dollars should fund some cultural aesthetic that I find pretentious and self-indulgent. I want my money to go to worthier causes.

    Textbook execution. Bravo, sir. *golf clap*
    posted by entropicamericana at 9:08 AM on May 14, 2012


    Stop money-wasting programs, like the study of history or English? The head of the NIH was an English major (even went to grad school for it, before heading to med school). JFK was a history major; so was Nixon.

    You assert that you know, without question, what majors will be useful and what majors won't be. And you simply can't know that.
    posted by rtha at 9:11 AM on May 14, 2012


    And I'll toot my own FPP horn here and point you to this post I made a few years back, in case you're wondering what good artists, fashion designers, and actors in wartime do.
    posted by rtha at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2012


    What I don't understand is how you can point out multiple cases of grotesque waste and act as if they justify wasting money on other things also.

    Because I don't agree that teaching history - whether WW2, medieval or pre-historic (aka archeology, paleontology) - is a waste of money. As a historian, I'm probably just a teeny-bit biased, but I watch bad things happen around the world due to a LACK of historical knowledge, and it hurts me as much as the knowledge of preventable river blindness. Lack of historical and anthropological intelligence led directly to the disaster which is post-2003 Iraq and has led to the deaths of thousands of people.
    posted by jb at 9:58 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


    There are actually quite a lot of people who could live quite well without art or culture as long as their basic needs were met. (Just go to any third world country; you can't throw a stick without hitting one.)

    The suggestion that third world countries are bereft of art and culture is staggering. Maybe you should have tempered your contempt for formal study of the humanities long enough to take, for instance, an ethnomusicology course.
    posted by en forme de poire at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


    This is a wonderful summary of the challenge of the humanities - the things studied in the humanities (culture, social relations, etc) are so very complex that coming up with universal models (the ideal of the natural sciences) is almost impossible

    This is bullshit. Here's why humanities types generally fail to come up with "general truths". They don't use math. The whole point of quantitative reasoning is the construction of self-consistent and testable general theories. You really can't help but be general because making a model that has the "important elements" that would appear to be necessary from a surface overview will usually give you something that's unsolvable or has so many tuning parameters that it loses all predictive power.

    Biology has been the same way for the longest time. There's a famous saying. "Biologists study what makes things different, Physicists study what makes things the same." So your typical biologist studies minute differences in made up classification schemes or some such stuff and misses out on whole symmetry classes and energy flows and etc etc.

    The geospatial economic Rome map thread going on right now is a reasonable example of an attempt to get the universal truth that governed the Roman Empire, modeling it as flows of goods and information governed by the processes and energy scales available then.

    A historian would look at that sort of thing and say "oh but it ignores the particular kind of marble that Nero preferred for his chamber pots". This is just white noise.

    All those trees clumped together? That's a forest. Don't forget it.
    posted by Chekhovian at 12:16 PM on May 14, 2012


    A historian would look at that sort of thing and say "oh but it ignores the particular kind of marble that Nero preferred for his chamber pots". This is just white noise.

    Wait, how exactly do you think Stanford pulled together all those datasets? Marble is exactly the kind of material that lends itself well to economic models: it's expensive, it's hard to quarry and move economically, it's relatively easy to figure out where it came from in broad detail, it's impacted by imperial policies, it continues to be used throughout the entire history of Rome and as spolia beyond...not that we actually have Nero's chamber pots, but unusually, we have a lot of the Domus Aurea, some of it excavated relatively frequently. If a type of marble that wasn't supposed to have been quarried yet or that was recently discovered would tell us more about the speed with which it was extracted, shipped, and sold to the emperor. It might tell us about changes in imperial designs, which have a knock-on effect for dating structures with a less-secure history than known imperial palaces. Perhaps it might have masonry marks or other indications of the craftsmen and the work structure within which it was used for Nero's baths.

    I try to explain the importance of artifacts in understanding the Roman Empire to six-year-olds on a regular basis by showing them two 1st century BC amphorae from the sea floor, which come with a bit of a signature, which lets us know where they came from, what they held, where they were going, why, and so forth. Those two amphorae fit into a much bigger picture of shipwrecks, of patterns in amphorae design, and of changing markets for wine, but we only know what those bigger patterns are because tiny things like lumps of baked clay on the sea floor have been cataloged and studied.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 12:35 PM on May 14, 2012


    Excellent Classics departments are electric with activity which sparks intellectual curiosity and a deeper understanding of the roots of our society. Classics students are not zombies shuffling about in a mausoleum. We're enthusiastic people with a deadly command of grammar, the sensibilities of words derived from Latin and Ancient Greek, and the thought that underpins Western Civilization.

    You're mistaking ancient and pergoie making (or other comfort food from your cultural roots) for lobotomized and useless. But, if everyone can use it (rather it requiring a rarefied departmental ghetto-ization to be remotely interesting, like Classics gets accused of) it's data points for everyone, even the etymology, so I stand by that. I think it is alive, well and should exist, I'm just not a classics major, only a happy tourist, so of course you defend your field better than I can without sounding like you're head patting (but I can tag team with you on poli-sci).

    There are actually quite a lot of people who could live quite well without art or culture as long as their basic needs were met.

    Now if you'd spent any time in the 'international relations' side of the humanities you would know that is utter bullshit. Hell, if you'd taken sociology 101 or high school level sociology (as available in your area), you'd know what a cultural universal was.

    I don't see what gives people the right to claim that my tax dollars should fund some cultural aesthetic that I find pretentious and self-indulgent.

    You seem to be conflating some weird artsy straw man with the tools you're trying to communicate with us with, and seem to assume this is about 'pretty' versus 'useful' not 'useful for X' versus 'useful for Y'. Unless we're walking into the idea of non-shared moral structures in which case weren't you kinda upset people consider debating this subject a worthwhile pursuit.

    But what right? Well... (blows invisible dust off here newly minted poli sci degree)

    Why other humans get to tell you what to do is generally related by thinkers throughout history to either some sort of divine mandate, or big stick/communal gain theory- and in modern use, the theologically distributed mode of power is no longer popular. The idea is that individual humans combine into groups and make shared laws based on compromised priorities- for example you give up blood vendetta vigilante rights in exchange for courts of law, etc... Either we obey because A) the people with the power make you with violence or B) active rebellion destroys the social contract and you lose all the goodies that came with the trade offs.

    "Rights" such as you know them, weren't divinely mandated by any evidence we seem to be able to find, they're base assumptions of congenial living according to our culture- like I don't have the right to come into my neighbours apartment and eat all her food, but that's enforced by police following guidelines regarding theft, or at least her ability to make me feel guilty through shared species empathy. One or the other, or my logical acceptance that my right not to have her do that to me is posited on me not doing it to her.

    We have the right to spend your tax dollars in a manner that pleases more than you, because you don't have the right to stop us, just a sense of deep seated unfairness and the right to argue otherwise, which you are currently exercising. You may petition your government to allot resources according to your personal aesthetic sense instead- but you have to convince the people who disagree with you too, because generally we assist in picking the people to whom you petition.

    The assumptions under which our tax and spend system works is that we don't get to experience only the priorities of one randomly selected individual, but a dialogue between whomever has the power (could be a village chief + three big brutes, a president + corporate affluence + historical oligarchy, a junta + the army, a people's committee + a howling militia of rebels, really whatever) and the people being told what to do. As it stands you live in a culture where your leaders tend to have degrees in the things you hold frivolous- so we can assume that complete access to the parts of education you dislike won't be closed unless you're super-humanly persuasive, however-

    You need to outvote the people who believe broad access to humanities education promotes social involvement and keeps the oligarchs in check.
    You need to outvote the people who think being nice to other humans on this point is worth it to get what they want or who don't make the distinction between the stuff you like and dislike and this stuff.
    You need to outvote the people who like this stuff aesthetically.
    You need to outvote the people who think it's intrinsically useful.

    That's what gives us the 'right' to spend your taxes on our priorities, the same thing that means that people I don't like, in my country, still get medicare, and people I've never met (nor care to) get another road or a bunch of park benches, or a fresh coat of varnish on the benches cradling my politicians asses instead of big jabby spikes. You may choose to foment rebellion, foment cultural change or leave to a more congenial society.
    posted by Phalene at 12:43 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


    we only know what those bigger patterns are because tiny things like lumps of baked clay on the sea floor have been cataloged and studied.

    I wasn't claiming that the grunt work isn't necessary. Rather that you have to take the next step once you have that in place, that's large scale generalized analysis, which seems to be verboten in humanities according to some earlier comments.

    And its interesting that computer usage in the humanities was brought up earlier. One of the NYT Disunion columns was about computerized analysis of every bit of correspondence and journal and newspaper bit available from the Civil War, a volume of material much larger than any single person could ever process in many life times of study. But put it into a database and flows and developments of ideas can be mapped out, their evolution and popularity studied, all sorts of useful coarse graining accomplished.
    posted by Chekhovian at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2012


    So your typical biologist studies minute differences in made up classification schemes or some such stuff and misses out on whole symmetry classes and energy flows and etc etc.

    Sorry, but this is nonsense.
    In the early 20th century, a handful of scientists wanted to answer some very basic questions about life. Do all living things have genes? What are genes made of? How do genes encode proteins? They selected E. coli to study in order to answer those questions, and by the 1960s it had brought them spectacular success.

    It turned out that the same rules that governed E. coli applied to all other living things: as the French biologist Jacques Monod declared, "What is true for E. coli is true for the elephant." Monod and a dozen or so other experts on E. coli would win Nobel Prizes for their insights into this humble resident of our guts.
    (via)
    posted by en forme de poire at 12:49 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    This is bullshit. Here's why humanities types generally fail to come up with "general truths". They don't use math.

    Funny - what was I doing with the correlations I was calculating? Basket-weaving with SPSS?

    Humanities people do use math, when it is appropriate. When calculating demographic trends, historians use maths; same goes for market integration and its correlation to growth.

    But how do you answer questions like "What was the historic attitude towards large-scale state-supported development which terminated some land rights (use rights) in favour or other land rights (private property rights)?" Do you count the numbers of pamphlets published? (Not that you have a decent surviving sample). Or how many words each pamphlet used?

    or do you READ the pamphlets and do a detailed analysis of the arguments presented in favour and against a certain position, and see how certain cultural assumptions change over time?

    Other questions that cannot be answered with maths (or just maths)
    - how were families defined before the modern period (novels are a good source for the 18th century, especially when checked against non-fiction sources)?
    - what is the history of attitudes towards poverty and poor relief?
    - what was a medieval childhood like, and how was it similar to and different from modern childhood?

    If you don't understand the usefulness of qualitative research, you are ignoring half of all human knowledge, including some of the most important work in health research.
    posted by jb at 1:16 PM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


    It simply means that if you were to ask a starving farmer in Africa his preferences on whether a public budget should be allocated to basic needs like food and housing or to arts and culture

    On the radio the other day, I was listening to some research that found that very poor people (in India, I believe) would go hungry in order to spend some money on entertainment, like going to a movie.

    But, of course, you need humanists and social scientists to find out what people actually do rather than what economic-Rational-Man(TM) would do.
    posted by jb at 1:20 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


    if you were to ask a starving farmer in Africa his preferences on whether a public budget should be allocated to basic needs like food and housing or to arts and culture, I think that he would disagree quite vehemently

    The fact that you're arguing from a caricature, using sort of antiquated language ("third world") instead of commonly-used, more meaningful terms arouses the suspicion that you should go and learn some of the things taught in humanities courses. Appealing to the opinion of a single hypothetical person isn't very good science, either: at minimum, the sample size is too small ;-)

    Also, with each passing post of yours that does not address my questions about justification for funding scientific research, I begin to think you don't know a whole lot about science, either.

    Shouldn't a "knowledge junkie" be universally in favour of anything that aids in the production and dissemination of knowledge, regardless of xyr personal interest in that knowledge?
    posted by kengraham at 1:30 PM on May 14, 2012


    On the radio the other day, I was listening to some research that found that very poor people (in India, I believe) would go hungry in order to spend some money on entertainment, like going to a movie.

    That's interesting in that you're one of the few commentators supporting the humanities who's making arguments that are entirely data-driven (instead of making arrogant and pompous comments like "Pfft, you believe in Adam Smith, clearly this just reveals your ignorance"). Would you provide a reference? I'm not being sarcastic: I'm open to changing my mind based on hard data.


    Also, with each passing post of yours that does not address my questions about justification for funding scientific research, I begin to think you don't know a whole lot about science, either.


    I didn't address your post because I didn't see your post. I don't think this discussion would be served by me responding to every single argument personally. I'll take another look along this entire thread later and if I see a question that was specifically addressed to me I will answer it. In the meantime, I apologize if it seems like I was ignoring you: I assure you that was unintentional.

    Also, I never claimed to know a lot about science, and my background would be irrelevant to the discussion. I simply respect the scientific mindset more because it forms concrete conclusions that can be tested and proven, as opposed to fields like history where the only "proof" is a general consensus of other academics via peer-review.
    posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:41 PM on May 14, 2012


    Do you count the numbers of pamphlets published? (Not that you have a decent surviving sample). Or how many words each pamphlet used?

    See, that's the rub right there. The sort of analysis that is going to become "humanities" work in 20 years will be quantitative, but far, far more carefully wrought than those simple measures you've proposed. Actually you've laid a pretty good framework for it:

    - how were families defined before the modern period (novels are a good source for the 18th century, especially when checked against non-fiction sources)?
    - what is the history of attitudes towards poverty and poor relief?
    - what was a medieval childhood like, and how was it similar to and different from modern childhood?

    We're getting to the point where a computer program will be able to parse out these answers for you from a digitized text, and faster, and better, and more thoroughly and more fairly than any human ever could in a human lifespan.

    And the crucial novelty this sort of work will bring is in modeling, wherein whole societies of entities seeded according to all sorts of inputs like what you've suggested will be "run".

    I'm getting vague and handwavey of course about this basically scifi level futuretech, but you know we basically already do this sort of stuff at a much more primitive scale. Have you ever played Sim City? Imagine Sim Civil War, where all the available primary sources are used to seed the starting model.

    So we might ask "Why did the Civil War happen?" and test our theories with this sort of model. Now currently a historian would go on about economic forces, political personalities, cultural norms, etc, but its not "testable". Such modeling work will allow us to try all sorts of permutations on the inputs, e.g. "what if the south had 30% more people?" or "what if there were fewer large plantations and more small farms?" etc etc.
    posted by Chekhovian at 1:52 PM on May 14, 2012


    it forms concrete conclusions that can be tested and proven

    False. With the exception of mathematics, scientific conclusions can be tested and disproven, and also compared with one another according to their ability to explain and be consistent with available (incomplete) evidence. There is no absolute standard of truth in natural science. There are, however, hypotheses that have withstood enough experimental abuse, and have sufficient explanatory power, that they are accepted as (provisionally) true and underlie the current collective understanding, or state of the art, or whatever. This dynamism is why science is far cooler and more worthwhile than silly absolutist caricatures of science are.

    (Also, peer review plays an enormous role in the process by which these hypotheses are produced, tested, and communicated. Interpersonal dynamics in the scientific community also influence which scientific problems get considered important and worked on, which obviously has a huge influence in how science develops.)

    Philosophers of science, who hang out in humanities departments, have written lots of useful stuff that clarifies these issues.

    I never claimed to know a lot about science

    You are entitled to an opinion about the relative merits of various endeavours, but it is the tragedy of democracy that people who don't know a lot about those endeavours get a vote in whether they should be funded. It reminds me of all of those "not-a-nerd" SOPA supporters in Congress.
    posted by kengraham at 1:56 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Chekhovian - yes, computing will change the humanities. You might note that I was the commentator above who was lamenting that there isn't more social/institutional support for computing in the humanities, and my SO has already been involved in grant applications for a SIM civil War (actually, it would have been for a SIM WWI, because the American Civil War really isn't that important outside of the US).

    BUT this technology is only now becoming available -- for the last 2000 years, the humanities has been working on these questions without that technology. Furthermore, there are still questions that will need a great deal of humanities study before the computers can be programmed and a great deal of interpretation based on traditional humanities skills (what do the results mean?).

    Furthermore, there may still be some things that are simply not answerable through a quantitative method. I actually work with a lot of quantitative material (I would say that my project is both quantitative and qualitative), but I often simply do not have the data to apply the same methods as my social science colleagues would. For example, I am interested in real and perceived land-value as applied to historic wetlands, but I have no systematic land-value data (there were no surveys of the region I study at that time). What I have to work from are a handful (about 15-20) estimations of land-value as presented before a committee - and even with these numbers I have good reason (due to the excellent qualitative analysis of another historian) to suspect are sketchy estimations. There is no point in doing any sophisticated statistical analysis, because it would definitely be a case of garbage-in, garbage-out.

    But what I can tell you QUALITATIVELY is that a) even though we have evidence that the witnesses systematically over-estimated the value of the land due to a specific political reason (a contract specified that only land under a certain value would be liable to be taxed for improvements), there were several places where the local inhabitants gave estimates that were lower than what would be expected, and all of these places were in a certain area which was subject to higher levels of flooding than other areas of the wetland. SO my conclusion is that this suggests that the value of wetland-pastures a) varied across the wetland region and b) were higher value in areas with less flooding and lower value in areas with more flooding. This is significant (to this little bit of history), because historians have been arguing that flooding made land more valuable to the local people (due to the way it supported lush green grasses) and thus drainage of the wetlands had no benefit for them. BUT it seems like flooding could make pasture land more productive/valuable (we have evidence of artificial flooding to improve pastures elsewhere), but too much flooding would make it less productive/valuable.

    In another part of my study, I use some simple quantitative methods to understand the extent of land privatization (who much was privatized, what size were the lots, how many people received land and whether they received equal proportions or not), but I combine that with qualitative evidence (depositions - written testimony) about disputes to better understand how and why these privatizations were occurring at that moment.

    Social scientists already have the institutional support for quantitative analysis - but they continue to use qualitative data and methods very similar to the humanities (even if they have awesome software like NUDIST/NVIVO instead of index cards) because there are questions that they need to answer with qualitative data.

    That's interesting in that you're one of the few commentators supporting the humanities who's making arguments that are entirely data-driven (instead of making arrogant and pompous comments like "Pfft, you believe in Adam Smith, clearly this just reveals your ignorance"). Would you provide a reference? I'm not being sarcastic: I'm open to changing my mind based on hard data.

    wolfdreams01 - you seem to be mistaking "comments on the internet" for "academic humanities scholarship" and you also seem to be under a very serious misunderstanding of how academic humanities work. All academic humanities presents evidence; the nature of the evidence depends on the object of study. Historians present historical data (qualitative or quantitative); literature scholars present evidence from the texts under analysis (e.g. Jane Austen did not believe that passion was a good basis for a marriage, as show in here (page numb), here (page numb) and here (page numb). No one just makes stuff up (if I were snarky, I would say that's the job for columnists, not academics). For one thing, academics are the harshest critics and will tear apart anything that is not well supported.

    The radio program could have been Planet Money (NPR), More or Less(BBC) or the World (PRI) - or something else. I listen to a lot of radio: if you are interested, I suggest that you listen to more news about economics and development as well.
    posted by jb at 2:19 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


    wolfdreams01, to clarify further, my point was that the third world is not a good example of there being "a lot of people who could live quite well without art or culture as long as their basic needs were met." Arts and culture may certainly not be sufficient for what we think of as civilization, but in order to demonstrate that they are not necessary you would need to show examples of a civilization that has flourished, or at least endured, without art or culture. The question of whether the study of the arts should be funded by a national government is largely a separate debate.

    Furthermore, there are still questions that will need a great deal of humanities study before the computers can be programmed and a great deal of interpretation based on traditional humanities skills (what do the results mean?).

    jb, I think this is a major point. Even in the natural sciences, machine learning approaches of the type Chekhovian describes still require analysis and interpretation by a person trained in the discipline in question. Machine learning works very well and I use it all the time in my own research, but it is very easy to unwittingly ask the wrong question or to misattribute the main sources of variation (even absent technical considerations like overfitting).
    posted by en forme de poire at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2012


    wasting money

    Oh, Jeebus! The idea that art, history, language, and philosophy are all just wastes of money and that somehow civilization can advance without them is ludicrous. Civilizations have always subsidized these activities and for the very reason that they give lifeblood to society. You, personally, may find any one instance of them pretentious, overblown, or silly, but this doesn't make the endeavors so. After all, we did send a few space shuttles hurtling into the black with our own folks on board. This does not negate the value of the science that gave us the wherewithal to do it successfully so many times. How have we become so juvenile as a body politic that it is perfectly acceptable for people to mock the foundations of civilization, as if all there is is commerce and everything else is window-dressing. What a bunch of small-minded BS. And I, a mathematician, thought I was a philistine.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


    To follow up on what jb is saying above: a number of us have identified ourselves as people with PhDs who do research in the fields being criticized. If you don't understand what it means to do research in our fields, and you don't want to do research yourself (or use Wikipedia) to find out, you could ask us.

    So your typical biologist studies minute differences in made up classification schemes or some such stuff and misses out on whole symmetry classes and energy flows and etc etc.

    For instance, I mentioned above that I'm a biogeochemist. That means I actually do study energy flows. My research is primarily focused on how energy flows through stream ecosystem and how cities alter those flows. As an ecosystem ecologist, I have never studied "minute differences in made up classification schemes" in my life. I do teach my students about phylogeny and systematics, because understanding the evolution and classification of biodiversity aids in both evolutionary biology and ecology. I know several people who are systematists, which I think might be the branch of biology that you're referring to (maybe?), but that's not even a very good description of systematics.

    I am not embarrassed to admit that I do not understand every field of academic research, even though many of my close friends have PhDs in fields different from mine. We frequently have conversations like "What are the hot questions in your field right now? What are the criteria for good research in your field?" We're curious people and like to learn new things and hear about new perspectives.

    It's okay not to understand every field of academic research. It's not okay to dismiss something as unimportant because you don't understand it.
    posted by hydropsyche at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


    On the radio the other day, I was listening to some research that found that very poor people (in India, I believe) would go hungry in order to spend some money on entertainment, like going to a movie.

    Bollywood* is pure escapism, and the very poorest rungs of society have long been the target audience.

    Movies go for 3 hours or more, so that people get their money's worth. There must be at least 7 big song-and-dance numbers, which help to pad out the time. They are also known as "masala movies", because they contain a mix (masala) of all genres: action, romance, comedy, family drama, political thriller, and so on. The idea there is that a poor person might only be able to afford one movie a year, so that movie needs to contain everything.

    It's almost Shakespearian, the way a gripping family drama scene like a confrontation at a wedding (say, the noble-hearted outlaw twin brother, separated at birth from his corrupt policeman sibling, shows up mid-ceremony to claim the heart of the stunning bride) segues into a 15 minute comedy monologue by a fat dwarfish man with an unnaturally high voice.

    In almost all cases, the movies are completely feelgood, and totally morally unambiguous. The good guy is completely good. The bad guys are evil beyond belief, and always get their comeuppance, which involves the goodie naturally winning the heart of the lead starlet, and of course the eventual approval of her family. This is, of course, so the audience can leave feeling satisfied that good always prevails, and the righteous get all the awesomeness in life that they deserve. A happy song-and-dance number rounds things off, and people go to dream happily in their humble homes.

    * and similar industries like Chollywood in Tamil-speaking Chennai or Mollywood for the Karnataka-based Malayalam language movie industry, or Lollywood for Lahore in Pakistan, etc.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 PM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Right, hydropsyche, and I think my last post was phrased badly wrt this point. I certainly didn't mean that all, say, non-biologists should have no say in whether biology is valuable. I just think (like you?) that all historical evidence shows that most good-faith rational inquiry should be given the benefit of the doubt by those who don't understand it, i.e. the default attitude should be "Oh, something interesting is probably happening over there". What I called the "tragedy of democracy" is that people who don't have that attitude (but who instead insist that only those things they claim to understand are valid) are still entitled to a vote.

    (I certainly didn't claim to know anything substantive about all fields. I'm even pretty ignorant in my own.)
    posted by kengraham at 2:40 PM on May 14, 2012


    [citations]. This also looks like a fascinating intro into the academic study of Bollywood.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 2:43 PM on May 14, 2012


    I know several people who are systematists, which I think might be the branch of biology that you're referring to (maybe?), but that's not even a very good description of systematics.

    And ironically, especially post-sequencing-age, phylogeny is one of the areas in modern biology that makes the heaviest use of computational tools and statistical rigor.
    posted by en forme de poire at 2:44 PM on May 14, 2012


    Humorously, my husband, who has the same bachelor's in Liberal Arts that I do plus some training in graphic design (and currently works as a stand-up comic) made the same point--"systematics is completely quantitative these days, right?"
    posted by hydropsyche at 2:49 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Everyone's got their favorite axe to grind about the stupidest thing the US government spends money on. Some critiques are informed. Many are not.

    Remember when Bobby Jindal said how dumb it was for the U.S. to monitor volcanoes? Yeah.
    posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on May 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


    [comment removed. wolfdreams01 you seem to be having some trouble not making this thread all about you, if you'd like to talk this over in MetaTalk, that would be great, otherwise this sort of grammar nitpicky stuff is not really how we do things here and it's toxic to respectful conversation. You can contact us via the contact form if you need to.]
    posted by jessamyn at 6:22 PM on May 14, 2012


    One problem in the current discussion is the confusion of societal value with market value.

    Libertarian Bias in Economics - "in economics the concern, the goal, is almost always Pareto optimality rather than total societal utils optimality"

    cf. Fun With Accounting Identities & Identity Economics - "MV=PY is a more useful identity (though it should really be MV=PT) ... Recessions are always and everywhere a monetary (medium of exchange) phenomena, and Y=C+I+G+NX refers equally to a monetary exchange or barter economy. Recessions are not about Y; they are about T. Production of newly-produced goods Y for home use and for barter with friends and neighbours seems to do very well in recessions; while monetary transactions T of all kinds, whether for newly-produced goods or not, seem to do badly."

    also btw... (previously 1,2)
    posted by kliuless at 10:28 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Any economic system is built of various market participants making decisions, which only make sense using local notions like Pareto optimality. You know even full fledged communism merely hides these market decisions made by individuals, but does not actually eliminate them.

    A Darwinian Left by Peter Singer argues that our society's systemic problems stem arise partially because progressives permit elites/organizations to engineer intrinsically exploitive scenarios through their focus upon total social utility, which help distinguish right and wrong, but offer little options for action, and their ignorance of local game theoretic notions necessary for actually directing behavior.
    posted by jeffburdges at 6:21 AM on May 17, 2012


    I hope it's pedantic in the right way: the word scholar is from scholia, leisure. See Nicomachaean Ethics Book 10. Aristotle sure seems to think that the academic life is a privilege and not a right. And I say this as a former Ph.D. student in classical philosophy from a program in New Jersey whose graduates can generally get non-adjunct jobs if they want them.

    I've got many, many regrets, but leaving that part of the academy is not one of them.
    posted by skbw at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


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