What if it's all bullshit?
September 27, 2021 2:38 PM   Subscribe

What if it's all bullshit? An academic philosopher ponders discrimination, failed COVID policies, and bullshit
There is a special perversity in pursuing a vocation that hinges entirely on the premise that knowledge matters while obliged to deny what knowledge shows. As a scholar, I could not do my job if I accepted the sort of “reasoning” we are given for the cruel arrangements under which we labor. And that is the fundamental bullshit on which all the bullshit sits. The very thing my job has made me is the thing my job no longer wants. I am trained to live comfortably and well inside the space of reasons, to venture into wilds for evidence, to govern what I do with knowledge. My life project was in part to teach others to do likewise. That which makes me what I am is also that which makes me now unfit for the world I must inhabit. We here have exited the space of reason."
posted by hydropsyche (63 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Life sucks. It's all bullshit except for the stuff that keeps you alive-or kills you. Jobs these days can be both.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:43 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]


Yup. We were all trained to be people working hard in the pursuit of knowledge and truth and a better world. Those of us who actually did it have rendered ourselves unfit for the world as it stands. In what industry at all is any person supported in doing a Thing Worth Doing, and Doing It Well? Certainly none that anyone of my acquaintance is in.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:50 PM on September 27 [24 favorites]


Wow. Wow. That reply to the letter about compensation. I think this professor is too good for the school she's teaching at. It doesn't matter if the students don't respect learning, students are just students, you can reach them. If the adminitration have contempt for learning it's all over. I hope she can find a better job, that school does not deserve her.
posted by subdee at 2:51 PM on September 27 [17 favorites]


The internalization goes deep — the prof doesn’t name themselves and only obliquely the university. I bet she showed up to teach her classes this week, too.
posted by Galvanic at 2:54 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


I left an academic career long before it really got started after coming to truly understand the balance between labour and compensation and the way institutions valued contributions (particularly those in the US where I was working but not where I was trained). My wife eventually gave up her tenure track career for similar reasons.

Now, quite a few years on, we're hearing from more early and mid-career scholars considering the same. We sometimes act as a sounding board. We provide a resounding "yes" when people ask if they should, and it's for all the reasons and tensions and complications raised by this piece.

I think the system is broken, fundamentally, but especially in the US.
posted by onetime dormouse at 3:17 PM on September 27 [8 favorites]


Damn. This might not have been the best thing to read on my commute to my (largely) bullshit job where the work that I do has a negligible at best effect on the world, but without which I doubt I’d be able to find work that paid anything like being able to pay the mortgage.

That, and, yeah, I think this is what we’re *all* finding out. “Do your best and work hard, and you’ll achieve your dreams” has given way to watching failsons fall upwards into ever higher employment. “Study hard, and have a healthy respect for knowledge and learning” has fallen by the wayside while contempt for learning has taken the loudest, most central part of the stage in public life. “Be good, be just, be moral, and believe in the best of people” has given us Trump, MTG, QAnon, and the rest of those that spit of any form of empathy.

It’s not that any of this is new. It’s not a shock, but most days we can cover it up and get on with our lives, because if not that, then how do we even function? How do we go through life face to face with the fact that we’ve been had? That we were this fundamentally wrong about the workings of the world? The game is rigged, the carnies are laughing, and shit, that moment of realization that I’m the rube hits hard. It’s just that it doesn’t hit the once. It’s that it hits again, fresh, every time I peek under the bandage, hoping it’s gone, and it leaves me worse off every time, because now I feel like an idiot for hoping, too.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:29 PM on September 27 [93 favorites]


"Be good, be just, be moral, and believe in the best of people."

This has always been bs. You have to do WAY more in life than just be a good person. And yes, people probably need some basic ethical compass, but just telling someone to be a good person is like telling them to hide under their desk when the bomb sets. Ugh.
posted by firstdaffodils at 3:51 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


Oh man. She doesn't even broach the subject that must be staring her in the face every single day she steps on that campus - there's plenty of money for the football program. I'm glad she at least has her dad to reinforce her that things are not right. But what a demoralizing situation.

And I wonder what it's like in the classroom there. This summer I found myself in a bar just off-campus from where this professor works (long story; family requirements), and it was the only time during the pandemic that I've been coughed on for wearing a facemask.
posted by queensissy at 3:55 PM on September 27 [14 favorites]


I too left an academic career (physician-scientist) for the private sector, and I've not looked back, other than in horror at the abuse the academic medial system heaps on its young. And like onetime dormouse I regularly get calls from mid-career colleagues in academia looking for an exit ramp. In fact, earlier this summer I hired the person who mentored me 15 years when I was a clinical fellow.

I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised to see people walking way from academic jobs for the same reason people are walking away from private sector jobs, and I can easily foresee a "supply chain" challenge in colleges and universities.

My bigger concern is that there are may other careers beyond academia that this paean could equally apply to (lookin' at you my friends who went to law school), and I wonder what sector in the economy is likely to break next.
posted by scblackman at 3:57 PM on September 27 [11 favorites]


Girdorah -- your comment hits me right in the gut.

But I recently lost my bullshit job, while keeping the bullshit mortgage. And spending my Mondays browsing the homogenous and uninteresting opportunities on LinkedIn, building my "personal brand" and trying to network with my industry's failsons leaves me even more existentially-depressed mess at the end of the day.

I hope you are able to keep your bullshit job, find joy in family, friends, and hobbies, and keep the abyss at bay, day by day. But I also recognize what cold comfort that advice can be.
posted by turbowombat at 4:05 PM on September 27 [26 favorites]


I've spent the last year job searching for an exit ramp from academia, for reasons that include those described here. Finally last week I got a job offer... and I just couldn't quite pull the trigger. Not now, not for that job, at least. I feel like an idiot for staying in such an abusive environment for such little pay, especially being as broke and depressed as I am, and yet... I can't not believe that there's still opportunities for me to do something important and meaningful in academia. I know I need to change the situation I'm currently in, and I'm committed to leaving it one way or another. But I'm not quite ready to just say "fuck it" and take the money to do work I'm not sure I believe in. Maybe I will be soon.

At least I'm in a place where most people take the pandemic seriously.
posted by biogeo at 4:06 PM on September 27 [11 favorites]


Come to the dark side, biogeo. We have cookies better comp and existant work-life balance!
posted by Alterscape at 4:17 PM on September 27 [5 favorites]


I, not an academic, none the less work at a large land grant university. And actually, it's sort of one of the good ones, covid-wise - we have a mask mandate, we have an official policy encouraging though not requiring vaccination, there is some flexibility to work from home for some staff sometimes.

Someone formerly in my union just quit. She had worked in a job that had been remote for the entirety of the pandemic until recently, a job done by many people, most of whom were able to return to campus. Around return time, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Could she return to working from home, she asked her supervisor, so as not to put her mother at risk while caring for her? You would think that one out of a number of people doing the same job could be permitted to work from home for the few months remaining to her dying mother. But you'd be wrong! She had to be there or get fired, but they would "understand" if she felt she had to leave her job, although of course she would not be eligible for unemployment.

I stress that this is a union gig. The union can't do anything, because "bullshit, evil working conditions that are none the less permitted under the contract" isn't actionable.

I mean, what do you even do with that? Several people up the chain decided that the proles don't matter, let them infect their dying mothers with covid and live ever after with the guilt and without their mothers, who gives a shit, right?

In our last union contract, our big win was...that we got the same amount of maternity leave as professional/administrative and civil service. In the past, they got six weeks and we got two, because the proles are like beasts, we just drop our babies and wander mooing back to the field. Why would we need time off? Time to recover from birth and bond with the baby is for real humans with feelings and family bonds, not animals.

So yes, it is all bullshit. Bullshit all the way down. I wish it wasn't.
posted by Frowner at 4:47 PM on September 27 [86 favorites]


Scheißdreck Über Alles
posted by y2karl at 5:05 PM on September 27 [6 favorites]


Starting about a month or so into the pandemic's spread in the US, and lasting until a bit after the vaccines became available for the university to start encouraging (later requiring) people to get, my university began a policy of requiring anyone needing to come to campus for essential work to participate in a screening program, including attesting to lack of covid symptoms with a phone app, and in some buildings also being screened for fever on entry. This meant that every single building on campus needed a security officer posted at its entrance to confirm everyone entering's negative symptom status, and so I think the university hired a number of temporary workers to fill the need.

At one building that I didn't frequent too much, there was a young woman who regularly worked the entrance for symptom checking, who stood out as being particularly friendly and pleasant to interact with. A few months ago, after most of the university had voluntarily been vaccinated and there was a local lull in covid case numbers, the administration decided to end the requirement for everyone coming to campus to participate in the daily symptom check, and reopen most buildings on campus completely without requiring entry screening. Which meant this young woman's temporary position was ending. I happened to visit the building she worked in on her last day, and she was completely distraught. This was the best job she'd ever had, she said. People here were kind to her, and she'd learned so much from talking with them. She felt invested in the students' projects that she'd learned about and wished she could be around to see more. She'd been in a really bad place in her life, she said, and just being treated well at this temporary job by the people around her had been a revelation, exactly what she needed to try to start improving things for herself. And now it was ending. Apparently the building manager had encouraged her to apply for another, more permanent position; I haven't been over to that building much recently but I really hope she got the job. Of course, I'm very happy that her job made her so happy, but I think it says a lot about the nature of how terrible working conditions are in our country that simply not being treated like crap by the people working in that building, and feeling some minimal connection to a positive purpose for being there, were enough to make her feel so grateful for the job.

It's dangerous to make assumptions, of course, but it seemed like this lovely young person came from a background without a lot of access to higher education. I doubt she understood all that much of what was going on in that building (I certainly don't, anyway, and I've had a lot more relevant training), but she understood enough, and I think she believed in the transformative potential of what was happening there. She played a vital role in making that research possible for many months, and she was proud to have been able to contribute in her way. That building was lucky to have her. Fortunately I think at least some of the folks there realized that, but they're mostly not the ones who make decisions about who gets a job.

The academy should be throwing open its doors for people like her, doing what it can to recruit and retain them, regardless of whether they themselves have the desire or aptitude to become academics. Because it was clear to me that she deeply and sincerely believes in the mission of our institution, in a way I often think our own leaders don't. While she worked what I have to imagine was a pretty low-wage job, knowing she was on a time limit and that it would end at some point, she took that job seriously, checking symptoms, helping people with access issues, and trying to make everyone's day a little more pleasant as they came into and departed from work. Meanwhile, my university has famous professors and high-powered administrators, many of whom are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, whose jobs are to produce the kind of bullshit this article is about, which is strangling the academy. It's a goddamned shame.
posted by biogeo at 5:56 PM on September 27 [98 favorites]


It cannot be overlooked that this is a dispatch from Red State America. The COVID response in particular is absolutely insane from a Blue State point of view. We’re living in different realities.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:10 PM on September 27 [15 favorites]


Come to the dark side, biogeo. We have cookies better comp and existant work-life balance!

This. I'm in the private sector and we joke about having poor work/life balances compared to people in public sector jobs, but in reality even our situation is incredibly better than academia for that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


I had a long talk with one of my kids today, sorta about this. I have to go to work to save money for when I can no longer work, because my "retirement" income is not survivable. I am saying that I just revisited all the schtick I used when I was young, and then all the reasons and motivations I do anything. None of it brings me joy except for a very few things. I kinda Zenned my way out of impulsive acts, and a reward system, since commerce is not my religion, ethanol is not my muse, and human power structures are just not interesting. I'll get some kind of work which takes me out of my house, maybe I will meet someone nice, but see, even that is not something I want to equate with a reward system. It is all bullshit, layer upon layer of it.
posted by Oyéah at 6:21 PM on September 27 [8 favorites]


The internalization goes deep — the prof doesn’t name themselves and only obliquely the university.

It’s not an anonymous Blogger account; her name is right on the profile.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:48 PM on September 27 [4 favorites]


The author wrote this article in Chronicle of Higher Ed recently: We’re Begging Students to Save Our Lives

Since I think CHE is paywalled, here's an excerpt:

This first week of fall semester, my colleagues are out making the rounds, meeting their classes for the first time and, this year, telling stories about their own lives. One professor speaks of her baby, too young to vaccinate. Another mentions an immunocompromised spouse at home. Still another tells of a sibling, lately deceased from Covid. Though each tale has its own rhythm and tone, they tend to end alike: Faculty nervously offer masks to their bare-faced students, who mostly decline to take them. Some look away sheepishly, some placidly stare, some sneer. Then class as we used to know it must begin, with introductory tours through syllabi, requirements, and course aims.

The University of Oklahoma, where I teach, is in a state that has barred requiring vaccinations or masks of students. This fact alone would make the university’s back-to-normal gambit dangerous. We are also in an “extremely high risk” area for Covid, where the Delta variant is finding plenty of unvaccinated hosts. In refusing to require masks, the university claims that it is abiding by the law and cannot do otherwise. But some school districts in the state have defied the ban on requiring masks, and our own law school-faculty say the law does not unambiguously forbid such a requirement (so long as we don’t single out the unvaccinated). In short, the university could defy or challenge the law. It has not.

posted by mostly vowels at 6:50 PM on September 27 [14 favorites]


Those of us who actually did it have rendered ourselves unfit for the world as it stands.

The whole culture of "professional managers" with their MBAs was the start of this trend. "Leave it to the professionals" so they can skim all the cream and then leave you fucked. And truth is most of them are phoning it in - at least if they really did take their job of management seriously they might bring something to the table... Working people (and that includes knowledge workers) need to rise up and shake off these parasites.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:52 PM on September 27 [16 favorites]


And the links in the article point exactly to what institution she works in.

She’s brave. Hopefully the imposters she’s written about don’t decide to lash out. Though she’s smarter than I by any measure ; perhaps she has a plan. She certainly has the heart for it.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:52 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


The author isn’t anonymous.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:31 PM on September 27


The whole culture of "professional managers" with their MBAs was the start of this trend.

I find a lot of Frank Zappa's political rants to be kind of sophomoric, but, when he was right he was right:

What do you think happened in this country?
Well, two important things, and each one of them has only three letters: One was LSD, a chemical which is capable of turning a hippie into a yuppie, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to mankind. And the other is MBA. When people started taking MBA seriously, that was the beginning of the ruination of the American industrial society. When all decisions are based on an MBA's concept of numerical reality, you're in deep shit, because the only thing that can be judged as real is that which can be proved by a column of figures. And when all aesthetic decisions are turned over to these kinds of people, who use these criteria to make steering decisions for a company with no regard for people and no regard for what the product really is, and the only thing that matters is maximizing your profit, you have a problem. Because you can't have quality then; you cannot have excellence. Quality's expensive. I think most of these people that come from business schools have the desire to make sure everything is cheesy. That's what happens when you do things that way.


University administrators are now really into "data", which gives a high-tech feel to this style of management. I suspect that the writer is at the intersection of institutional sexism, and a trend of colleges and universities considering Philosophy to be not only not carrying its weight in making some suite of numbers look right, but also not relevant to today's students or society.
posted by thelonius at 7:34 PM on September 27 [28 favorites]


So for the record, the author is Amy Olberding, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. It's weird that this post left her unnamed.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:39 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]


The whole culture of "professional managers" with their MBAs was the start of this trend.

I don't know, I feel like "blame the MBAs" is sort of a lazy out. Most people with MBAs are just regular working stiffs who wanted to move up the ladder and hit a certain point where they needed to check the "has Master's degree" box to get the next promotion or into the next "salary band" or whatever, and an MBA is often the easiest Master's degree to obtain.

And it's not like academia hasn't been right along for the ride. It's very likely Olberding's program is being de facto subsidized not only by semi-pro football, but by OU's "Executive MBA" programs, ranging from "Executive MBA in Renewables" (a "14-month, primarily online program" costing $64,800) to the "Executive MBA in Aerospace and Defense" (12 months, $68,800).

Many of these programs are educationally dubious at best; their primary purpose is to basically serve as chips in a zero-sum status game between workers. In that sense, they are bullshit. But they're a symptom, not a cause.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:22 PM on September 27 [12 favorites]


Is this definitely by Olberding? It's posted at Olberding's blog, but the post is very careful to avoid identifying info, and I think it might be an anonymous post that Olberding is hosting? Olberding isn't the only woman in the Oklahoma philosophy department.
posted by escabeche at 8:24 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]


Is this definitely by Olberding?

It’s listed under “my blogs” in her Blogger profile, has links to a bunch of OU stuff, and echos some of the content of her recent Chronicle piece. I’m not sure about the “only woman” description, but it looks like other women associated with the department have research appointments or administrative roles. Academic department web pages are notoriously bad for identifying who is actually part of the department because they tend to make expansive definitions. I’ve never met the guy at the top of my department’s page; I’m the vice chair and I’ve been here 15 years.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:29 PM on September 27 [6 favorites]


man that's infuriating. she should've conveyed to the dean that old hoary truism, which guides us in trying times: "may I have the wisdom to know the bullshit i cannot change, the bullshit to know the bullshit i can't, and the fucking bullshit to tell the difference," and kicked him in the nuts over email, and quit.
posted by wibari at 9:51 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]


We have BS jobs because they pay our bills. And because they aren't entirely BS. Just mostly, vastly BS. The little bits that aren't are what we can hang onto while working in the cesspit of modern employment. And if we leave our BS job the odds are we will end up with another BS job but with a different terroir of BS to distract us for a moment until we realize that at least we had figured out how to handle some of the old BS. And then we start looking for the bits of the new job that are not entirely BS.

The thing is that most MBA's, esp. those who come straight out of the school to BS management pipeline love BS. Look at the Business section of your nearest bookstore. The stuff that sells is pure BS. Sure most of it is Cohen style BS but applying Victor Morberger's pseudophilosophy concept as an analytical tool doesn't hurt. MBA's are to often accountants without any creativity or vision beyond their bonuses. To often they are market fundamentalists who make a hash of business, looking at you Boeing, and have managed to miss the purposes of college and university almost entirely.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 12:00 AM on September 28 [10 favorites]


I spent about ten minutes on the University of Oklahoma's page on Open Payrolls and it is indeed a land of contrasts. Prof. Olberding got a substantial raise this year, from just under $90k to just over $100k. But she was and still is, albeit less egregiously, absolutely being paid less than several of her male colleagues with comparable seniority and accomplishments--not the business and engineering and med school profs, the other philosophers--and because she teaches at a public university and salaries are public, everybody there knows it and everybody knows everybody knows it and it's good that this got posted here so we know it too.
posted by sy at 12:04 AM on September 28 [9 favorites]


reminds me of a blog of the occupation of the University of California–Santa Cruz: Communiqué from an Absent Future
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.
also btw...
@benphillips76: "At last, our world has a leader. She is Mia Motley, Prime Minister of Barbados, and *this* is a speech"
posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on September 28 [10 favorites]


I recently joined a lab at I think the same place Frowner mentions, with a PI who genuinely cares about the people under her, which when I joined had two other postdocs. One of them in particular is the kind of deep, multidimensional thinker I really respect as a scientist, a scientist who cares about the students working with her deeply, a confident worker who knew full well she could succeed in the field if she wanted to.

She left, about a month after I joined the lab, to pursue a job in technical writing because the in person teaching requirements on our grad students will infect two of them with COVID at some point this semester; they're co-instructors od record in a class that they have been informed must meet in person. She has two little children who were both NICU cases; this other job is purely remote, so she can keep her family safe. And it pays better, too.

I ask myself every year or so: do I want to leave? I am openly cynical about our institutions, as scientists, and I am acutely aware of my own vulnerability. Just yesterday afternoon, in a one on one with my PI, I talked about being so, so relieved to take a break from teaching because I am so tired of the way that institutions have repeatedly explained to us that our lives and abilities are perfectly worthless if we interfere with the profit process of the university.

She wryly commented that often, faculty and students both forget that our lives are broader than our class together, and that the class isn't the only responsibility that either party has, without which we are expendable... and that administration had casually explained to all of us that no: outside the profit for each class, every one of you is perfectly expendable as far as the institution is concerned.

I still don't want to leave. I keep finding in myself a certain furious determination to stay and try to use what power I have to make a change--either within the academy as an institution or without it by chasing questions that have deep relevance to the way we run the world.

But I'm hollowly aware that no matter how much I learn, people will not listen, and nothing will change the institutions that would allow us to steward our people, who are always our greatest resource as a species. Everything is about short sighted profit margins. And there is no institutional employer who gives a single cold mouse shit about your life in this business.

I want to learn things that bring us insight about the world. I am uniquely well placed to do so; I know how hard it is to find other people in my field with the breadth of perspective I bring, although I am not wholly unique. I want to use my skills for good questions; I want to be in the room where our understanding of the world happens.

It's just. Do I have to be constantly in low grade terror of my life to do it? Even before COVID it was, look, I taught through a campus stabbing in 2017 and the Legislature gleefully removed all size restrictions on open carry knives. I've spent my entire career knowing that my workplace is funded and controlled by entities who would be viciously pleased at my death. This isn't new to me so much as it grinds in: there is nowhere where you will be safe. There is nowhere your toil is judged valuable enough to pay to keep you safe while you labor.

I still keep answering: no, I want to stay. I'm not done yet. I don't find myself ready to give up the power of generating the data yet. Like a dog who has somehow been allowed access to a rotting elk carcass, I'm still scrabbling around in the gore trying to wrest all the best bits into my belly while I still can, and singing while I still have the reverberation to do so. Eventually I might have to come out, but I'm still dodging the reaching hands that try to pry my toes from between the ribs for now. I still can't make myself give up my prize.

I'm a simple dog, you understand. But I'm very determined. And there's a good bit of meat on this carcass yet.
posted by sciatrix at 2:33 AM on September 28 [37 favorites]


It cannot be overlooked that this is a dispatch from Red State America. The COVID response in particular is absolutely insane from a Blue State point of view. We’re living in different realities.

Blue state and Blue city administrations also continue to fuck up pretty terribly. They are just almost completely overshadowed by some spectacularly malcompetent red state administrations.

NZ and AUS levels of response were always possible for the U.S. despite the massive propaganda and delusional self-deception attempting to convince us otherwise. Hell even Canada kept their covid numbers to 1/3rd of the U.S disaster. Just like with guns, healthcare and social safety nets a better world is possible for America. Don't believe the people who tell you its not because they are the reason it isn't happening.
posted by srboisvert at 3:35 AM on September 28 [9 favorites]


Wow, most of the complaints I've heard from university staff is about the way admin staff are treated - as "dead end" disposable meat with zero career progression and poor pay, compared to the academic staff, who are celebrated and recognized with numerous awards and training / development opportunities, who have clear "career progression paths" and who get coached along those paths, and are naturally paid much more. As in, if you want to have a Marketing or Finance career, the last place you would want to work in is in a university, because you'll be distant second class citizen. It's interesting to hear the perspective of an academic staff who finds the system isn't working for them either. Just sounds like a crappy workplace overall.
posted by xdvesper at 3:39 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


MBA's are to often accountants without any creativity or vision beyond their bonuses. To often they are market fundamentalists who make a hash of business, looking at you Boeing, and have managed to miss the purposes of college and university almost entirely.

I think of MBAs as the people who have cut the costs for Hall's Cough Drops to the point where there is now almost no waxy surface on cough drop wrappers resulting in the wrappers sticking to the cough drops. So now when you have coughing fit and need a cough drop quickly you end up sucking on a cough drop with some of the wrapper still stuck to it while some bizknob is running red lights in a brand new Audi.
posted by srboisvert at 3:45 AM on September 28 [39 favorites]


I'm an academic librarian, but I've never been able to quite convince myself that society is a rational enterprise. Now I've definitely and probably permanently come down on the demon-haunted world side of things.

I guess I see my job as trying to create small pools of reason that might help make US life tolerable for those so inclined.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:12 AM on September 28 [10 favorites]


I read the blog of a famous-in-her-area, awarded a lot, professor I met a few times and boy, does she point out she gets treated like crap here. She has to constantly be teaching 6 classes at 2 schools to make a living, there's constant battles, no contract, union issues, the school trying to take away her office, saying she can't ever get a raise again, etc. Because she is a lecturer and they are treated like crap.

Universities are kind of a devil's bargain. They offer certain whopping benefits you can't really get elsewhere, but also suck and most of the employees at all levels are really pissed off and thwarted about shit that will never change.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:18 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


If it’s any consolation I think there is an MBA out there absolutely gutted that you are dissatisfied with your halls cough drop experience having spent multiple 80-hour weeks with focus groups, cost analyses, distribution and storage and supply chain challenges, and eating 20 different slight prototype changes to their cough drops, which somehow makes that seem even sadder…
posted by The Ted at 5:37 AM on September 28 [2 favorites]


I think the MBA has become completely disconnected from its origins, hence the ridicule it receives nowadays.

The large / legacy corporations usually run in-house training programs that tries to move the candidate between 6-7 different functional areas - say manufacturing, R&D, marketing, corporate finance, tax, procurement, logistics. This is to give them a rounded view of the business, and after a grand tour lasting 10-15 years, this candidate would be deemed experienced enough to enter middle management.

Getting the candidate to obtain an MBA would supplement their hands on experience with theoretical knowledge from other areas that they couldn't reasonably get to in their rotations - HR, mergers and acquisitions, law, economics, maths modelling, branding, etc. An MBA mostly covers only first year equivalent knowledge from each discipline, but the main difference is that it's focused less on performing those disciplines and more on managing a department performing them.

From a cost / benefit point of view, we're pretty happy spending $50k getting a candidate to do an MBA especially if it comes with a bond, say we manage to bond the candidate for a period of 4 years, that's a measly $12.5k per year to increase the probability we keep a top performer, that's nothing compared to their pay + overheads funding their seat which could be well over $200k per year.

TLDR an MBA isn't a replacement for practical management experience, it's just a useful supplement to what should already be a rigorous multi-disciplinary rotation program. Instead we see universities offering "MBA" program to fresh graduates with zero working experience, or offering MBAs to people who aren't even in the management track to begin with, they're just happy to take your $70,000 tuition, I really doubt house useful the degree is in that case.
posted by xdvesper at 6:12 AM on September 28 [11 favorites]


> I'm an academic librarian, but I've never been able to quite convince myself that society is a rational enterprise.

I work in a public library, and the number of anti-vaxx/masking emails being sent out anonymously via branch or departmental staff accounts (almost a daily occurrence now, although IT nukes them so quickly that often you only learn about them second-hand) has really put to rest any lingering notion that libraries are any more rational an enterprise than any other.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on September 28 [10 favorites]


It cannot be overlooked that this is a dispatch from Red State America. The COVID response in particular is absolutely insane from a Blue State point of view. We’re living in different realities.

That's true-ish in ways that aren't limited to covid.

I'm in a SUNY. To be sure, we face a lot of the same problems as anywhere else -- the funding program is heavily weighted towards butts in seats, there's always way more money for whatever the higher-level admins are interested in this year than there is for the core missions of the university except when they happen to overlap by dumb fucking luck, and there's some degree of admin bloat.

But.

We have a union and a system-wide contract. The COLAs are built into the contract. Admins, either at system or university level, have some capacity to stall them and did when the shit hit the fan last year, but all that meant was that they had to give us a big catch-up check this year. The size of the merit raise pool is built into the contract, and awarding merit raises is done in part by a union committee and not just department chairs' or higher admins' say-so. The size of a compression/inversion pool is built into the contract, administered either entirely or in part by a union committee, and requires zero action on the part of faculty.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:15 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


Blue state and Blue city administrations also continue to fuck up pretty terribly. They are just almost completely overshadowed by some spectacularly malcompetent red state administrations.

Certainly.

But I’m speaking to University administration and policies. This piece as well as the Chronicle article makes it clear that OU is doing absolutely nothing about COVID. There are literally no policies to prevent transmission and the administration has interpreted state law as requiring them to have no COVID policies instead of having their many, many lawyers trying to fight back.

Compare this to many, even typical, Blue State universities that require vaccination and masks, perform surveillance testing as well as tracing and enforced quarantine and isolation, and report COVID statistics. It a different reality.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:18 AM on September 28 [6 favorites]


any lingering notion that libraries are any more rational an enterprise

I think there's some merit to Chesterton's idea that insanity tends to result from an excess of rationalism rather than from the limited amount that most people muddle about with.
posted by clawsoon at 7:21 AM on September 28 [3 favorites]


I spent about ten minutes on the University of Oklahoma's page on Open Payrolls and it is indeed a land of contrasts. Prof. Olberding got a substantial raise this year, from just under $90k to just over $100k.

And here we get to why I have such a mixed reaction to all the tenured professors expressing horror over the reality that yes, their workplace isn't equitable either. On the one hand, of course Professor Olberding should be paid the same as her male peers, and of course the bloat of university admins is obscene and a problem, and of course their determination to be in-person despite the Delta surge was wrongheaded.

But on the other hand? She now gets paid over 100k to read, write, think, and yes grade and attend faculty meetings and other drudgery. And given she's at an R1 institution, I'd be shocked if she has to teach more than 2 classes per semester, so we're talking 6hrs per week in an actual classroom.

If this sounds slightly bitter, it's because I'd love to have the same job, which I'd gladly do for half the pay. And it's because I know many brilliant early career scholars who are also dedicated to teaching who make less than half that doing twice the grunt work without any of the job security. And yet if you compare the outrage coming from tenured professors over academia re: COVID to that of the adjunctification of the university, well, I'll let you guess which one is heftier.

And while it's nice to hear all of the promises that higher wages exist out there, I remain skeptical as my PhD-wielding partner, who speaks three languages fluently and has reading competency another three, is currently hoping he can quit his job at a grocery store (the only place that would hire him) so that he can...be an adjunct again.
posted by coffeecat at 7:33 AM on September 28 [15 favorites]


for clawsoon:

“Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.”
posted by turbowombat at 7:52 AM on September 28 [5 favorites]


The COVID response in particular is absolutely insane from a Blue State point of view. We’re living in different realities.

Definitely. My school president (a Cal State campus) even looked at our county infection rate in mid-August and decided to delay in-person repopulation completely, until the numbers had gone down (we're in a county that is not up to California's total vaccination rate, only at ~45%, part of red-state CA). We're repopulating starting this Friday with a mandatory vaccine requirement for all (or documented exemption with required weekly testing). Instructors are being allowed to continue all-online teaching if they have extenuating health concerns/needs (including simply protecting young children at home). And we just had a new screening app rolled out that requires students, faculty and staff to check-in daily before coming to campus, and instructors can require students to show their "green screens" on phones/tablets (cleared to be on campus) before even allowing them to enter a building or classroom.

So it's very different in different places.

Universities are kind of a devil's bargain. They offer certain whopping benefits you can't really get elsewhere, but also suck and most of the employees at all levels are really pissed off and thwarted about shit that will never change.

This, however, seems to be a constant at all universities, and will really break institutions from the inside if not resolved. Some of the jobs are great, some are pretty good, and a lot really do suck except for the fact that you get to work on a college campus, which is usually a nice setting.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:12 AM on September 28 [4 favorites]


"What if?" That's downright utopian.
posted by hilberseimer at 8:18 AM on September 28


I think the MBA has become completely disconnected from its origins, hence the ridicule it receives nowadays.

Nah, if you look at the initial work done in what would become the MBA curriculum, at the time called scientific management, it’s clear it hasn’t changed one iota since the 1880s . The main proponent Frederick Taylor straight up falsified studies and experiments to get the the results he wanted and filled it with the same nonsense we see today to justify decisions based on gut feelings using the sheen of science to justify it.

It was ridiculed at the time for the same reasons it’s ridiculed today.
posted by jmauro at 8:25 AM on September 28 [7 favorites]


Ghidora: That, and, yeah, I think this is what we’re *all* finding out. “Do your best and work hard, and you’ll achieve your dreams” has given way to watching failsons fall upwards into ever higher employment.

My smart, funny, talented, and hard-working son is a senior in high school, doing the college search thing. He wants to study biology and then be a Physician's Assistant, (so he's facing undergrad then grad school.

Last night he blurted, "Why didn't you tell us about all this?!" You know: the debt, the expense, the debt, the inability to ever buy a house or to travel widely, the goddamn debt...

He is legit frightened by the prospect of so much debt, and the years required to pay it all back. I work in .edu IT, and I could only helplessly agree.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:08 AM on September 28 [8 favorites]


Two years ago, the autumn Before, I was invited to sit in on a graduate course at the local Big 10 university—I was formerly a grad student there, and sat in on this class with an old prof just out of interest.

Academia has changed since I left 20 years ago. I was studying Literature in English, and the field has changed so much. One early class meeting, I said I was looking forward to what replaced postmodernism, and everybody looked a little discouraged and said they hadn't really figured that out yet.

The actual grad students in the room teased the prof about retiring to open up a job—they all know the odds, though I'm sure that, just like when I was dabbling in the field two decades ago, most PhD students think they'll be the one to beat the odds.

The prof, who clearly enjoys his work, would shake his head sadly and say, "It's not like they're going to replace me with another tenure line."

20 years ago, a friend of mine was married to the Philosophy Department chair. She told me that when they got queries from potential grad students, they would reply with a letter saying, "There are no jobs. You will not be hired by a college or university to teach philosophy. We strongly discourage you from pursuing graduate work in philosophy. If you're still interested in applying.... "

I thought that was so ethical.
posted by Orlop at 11:13 AM on September 28 [13 favorites]


The hardest and most uncomfortable lesson(s) I've learned in academia, where so many don't get paid what they deserve, is that you are only worth as much to the administration as the funding you bring in and how you are hard to replace. Yes, its all bullshit.
posted by Hutch at 1:56 PM on September 28 [1 favorite]


The entire point of MBAs is to leech off the productive labor of others.
posted by RajahKing at 3:44 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


I'd always thought that the main attraction of an MBA programme was the networking opportunities it offered, particularly for students who are already high-fliers and looking to move on or up. My institution offers programmes aimed at such students. Two anecdotes:

- A colleague in IT was asked by the business school to quote for delivering a half-finished mobile recruitment app marketing the school's offerings - essentially a brochure but it had to be shiny and to use some existing frameworks. Colleague reports that it could be done but the cost would be prohibitive. Schools says 'You don't understand - with what we charge if the app brings in one fee-paying student it will have more than paid for itself'.

- During the first lockdown here no students were allowed on campus apart from those doing essential work, chiefly covid or other biomedical research. The MBA students informed the administration that their work, too, was essential and their classes would therefore be meeting face-to-face – those networking opportunities after all being what they'd paid for. Administration promptly caved.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:28 PM on September 28 [4 favorites]


Last night he blurted, "Why didn't you tell us about all this?!" You know: the debt, the expense, the debt, the inability to ever buy a house or to travel widely, the goddamn debt...

Bad Education

-House Dems' $3.5T spending bill includes free community college for illegal immigrants (fox)
-Biden, Democrats may limit free college, childcare to shrink reconciliation bill -sources[1]
posted by kliuless at 1:29 AM on September 29


This was hard for me to read. Once upon a time, when I was a graduate student, my professor felt sure I should have his chair when he retired. He did everything to support and promote me. And then he died, in the second year of my studies while I was abroad for research.
When I returned, everything was different, almost like in The Matrix. I won't say I had never met discrimination before, but it had not really been a thing in my life. Then it hit me like a wall. It turns out that without a powerfull male protector, a woman needs to fight for every effing inch of her career. I can write a whole dissertation on this, but it would be unwise. It would be sad, and potentially boring, and also it would bring up trauma and anger that I can't deal with right now.
Right now, I am doing a professor's job at a lecturers wage and (non-)benefits and it is overwhelming, since I obviously have to get the rest of my income from other sources.
One of my oldest friends was recently given a full professorship in a completely different field but at the same university as mine. He has also had a turbulent and difficult career where he was forced to go in alternative directions to feed his family. But he has also been given chances. When I am told I haven't produced enough articles, he is told his experience from practice easily compensates for his lack in academic achievements. At least, next time I am told that my lack of tenure is due to university policy, I can point to an example of where that doesn't count.
That all said, I recognise that mostly it has been local department policies that have blocked me. In almost every case I would have faired better if I had gone to the top management and in the cases where I did, I was succesful. I need to think about that.
posted by mumimor at 7:02 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


I wonder if Bullshit Jobs will wind up being the Capital of our era.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 AM on September 29


I'd always thought that the main attraction of an MBA programme was the networking opportunities it offered, particularly for students who are already high-fliers and looking to move on or up.

That may still be true of a handful of top-tier, in-person MBA programs (Booth, HBS, Kellogg, Wharton, etc.), but it's certainly not true for the majority of MBA programs today, which are often online or "hybrid" and offer few opportunities for networking. They're cash cows for the universities that offer them, sometimes not even operated by the university whose branding is being used.

I mean, Liberty fucking University has something like 4,000 online MBA students at any given time; that's more than the top 4 largest in-person MBA programs combined (Stanford, U of R, UMD, MIT)—the latter all having less than a thousand full-time students each.

The networking at the top-tier programs is probably pretty good, though, since they are not only expensive in their own right, but an in-person program requires you to also eat the opportunity cost of working for a few years. (And many of the top-tier programs are not especially friendly to people coming directly in from undergrad, so you are giving up some prime income-earning years, not just delaying job market entry.) In some cases, you're probably talking about an all-in cost of half a million bucks. It shouldn't be too surprising to find yourself rubbing elbows with the summer-in-Newport-winter-in-Aspen crowd, given that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:09 AM on September 29


She now gets paid over 100k to read, write, think, and yes grade and attend faculty meetings and other drudgery.

"Other Drudgery" is the invisible 90% of the job you don't really know about until you are tenured.
posted by srboisvert at 10:39 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


I mean, Liberty fucking University has something like 4,000 online MBA students at any given time; that's more than the top 4 largest in-person MBA programs combined (Stanford, U of R, UMD, MIT)—the latter all having less than a thousand full-time students each.

You might want to look at how many Liberty University graduates networked their way into the Trump administration. It is a viable pathway to power and influence.
posted by srboisvert at 10:41 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


One also wonders how many of them graduate.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:43 PM on September 30


> She now gets paid over 100k to read, write, think, and yes grade and attend faculty meetings and other drudgery. And given she's at an R1 institution, I'd be shocked if she has to teach more than 2 classes per semester, so we're talking 6hrs per week in an actual classroom.

> If this sounds slightly bitter, it's because I'd love to have the same job, which I'd gladly do for half the pay.


Gently, your bitterness is misdirected. Your work is under compensated and your skills are undervalued. This is a fucking travesty. Her paycheck is not too large, and the problem here isn't that there was some kind of failure in the machine of capitalism which ought to have hired the cheaper candidate for the job (you). That's simply not what's wrong with this picture.
posted by MiraK at 8:50 AM on October 1 [6 favorites]


...your bitterness is misdirected....Her paycheck is not too large,

Debatable, of course, as are most paychecks large and small, but I would note that her paycheck is nearly twice the Oklahoma median household income. Household, not individual. For a skill set that is narrow but not impossible to replicate, and for, as Coffeecat observes, at a lower cost to state taxpayers.

(I read an article once that said most people imagine that a twenty percent rise in their paychecks would make them happy. The percentage was constant across all levels, and of course, moved up over time as an individual's income rose. Worth and value, go figure.)
posted by BWA at 8:37 AM on October 2


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