Veri Angry
August 5, 2008 6:24 AM   Subscribe

John H. Summers taught at Harvard. He didn't like the students much. And said so. Lots of Harvard students respond. Let the Wild Rumpus Start! (via AL Daily)

The rumpus begins in the comments. Full disclosure: I taught in the Social Studies program at Hotrod as well. Bonus link: even Harvard students say they don't like Harvard.
posted by MarshallPoe (79 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
The banality and sense of entitlement of rich students at Harvard my school left John H. Summers me feeling his teaching my education had been degraded to little more than a service rubber stamp to prepare clients set up rich kids for monied careers.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:34 AM on August 5, 2008


How do I like those apples?
posted by cavalier at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


This pairs well with this previous thread and will likely have many of the same type of comments.
posted by vacapinta at 6:46 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


*rimshot* but seriously, I wonder if this is really a statement at every university. I mean, certainly 'Ivy League' schools carry a distinction differing from 'State Colleges', but the classification really seems to start way before we get to the college level. I've had a friend go to Harvard and positively melt down even though they had been a super grade A student in my hometown, and I've had a friend go to state and positively dominate the school and extracurricular's. Was one truly at a lower level then the other? The state grad's an evil banking exec now with all the stresses and windfalls therein. The Harvard grad -- er, they kept going -- is a physical trainer in the midwest.

Are there bratty kids at each school? Sure. Isn't it the person, I guess I'm trying to get at, that makes their education, not the institution?

But maybe I've got the wrong soapbox, here, and we're just going to have a class entitlement discussion. Rich kids are weenies!
posted by cavalier at 6:50 AM on August 5, 2008


Everyone I know who has taught at Harvard says the same thing as this author. The rest of the Ivy's are similar, but a bit lower on the scale of entitlement.

At this point Harvard is an endowment that happens to have a university affiliated with it; it's a strange setup and I think will eventually need to be forced to use their money to do something other than grow more money.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on August 5, 2008


Honest question because I don't have the time right now to write a thesis on this: if the same standards of education for education's sake were applied to people of the fabled, canonized 'working classes' struggling to put food on the table and pay rent as this guy wants to apply to what he sees as privileged students, would the argument still be as respected? Isn't education for education's sake a luxury even now regardless of how well off you are (excepting, of course, the people like Jared Kushner)? I'm guessing most of his students were not of the Kushner type, but were upper middle class students whose parents would not be thrilled to have to support their kids interminably and would expect them to support themselves after college. Again - open to all thoughts here.
posted by spicynuts at 6:55 AM on August 5, 2008


it's a strange setup and I think will eventually need to be forced to use their money to do something other than grow more money.

Why? What's wrong with serving an existing demand? Institutions that prefer to serve a different demand can gain marketshare as people who want something different than Harvard has to offer find it in other places. Or by forced do you mean forced by the market?
posted by spicynuts at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2008


There's little in the world more amusing than the bitterly serious graduate student, raging at the world for not taking $PET_THEORY or $DISCIPLINE seriously enough. It's like looking at your teenaged self for whom everything had life or death significance.

I was drawing an annual salary of $15,500 (£7,700) and borrowing the remainder for survival in Cambridge

Translation: I am a moron.

The fractured nature of my appointment, renewed annually for six successive years while never amounting to more than 65 per cent of a full-time position in any one year, kept me on the margins of prestige and promotion

Translation: I am a moron with extraordinarily bad career-planning skills, and astonishingly ignorant of the norms of the area in which I work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


Is this where I get to complain about all the students in this college city?
posted by backseatpilot at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2008


Translation: I am a moron with extraordinarily bad career-planning skills, and astonishingly ignorant of the norms of the area in which I work.

Yeah I think this guy gets pwned in the very first few comments where someone says basically 'you start by displaying a sense of entitlement in your complaint about your employment terms and then you savage your students by complaining that they feel entitled.'

Way to go.
posted by spicynuts at 7:07 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or by forced do you mean forced by the market?

By forced I mean given the decision between keeping the benefits of being a non-profit entity and prioritizing other things over the endless growth of the endowments, or of continuing to act like a for-profit entity and thereby losing the non-profit tax status.

From an article contrasting Berea College and other schools (that I think was part of an FPP here):

In January, the Senate Finance Committee requested detailed endowment and spending data from 136 colleges and universities with endowments of at least $500 million, with a possible eye to forcing them to spend at least 5 percent of their assets each year, as foundations are required to do. Large, tax-free endowments “should mean affordable education for more students, not just a security blanket for colleges,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who is reviewing the data.

The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt section said this spring that he wanted his agency to be more aggressive in ensuring that universities made “appropriate use” of their endowments. And officials in Massachusetts are studying a proposal for a 2.5 percent tax on the part of university endowments greater than $1 billion — a threshold exceeded by nine of the state’s universities.

posted by Forktine at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hell, I thought everybody hated Harvard students. This merits a/n FPP?
posted by Xoebe at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I guess this guy assumed the following:
  • Education isn't a business
  • Harvard College is relevant
  • I'm not a member of the help
  • My students are below me
  • Sour grapes should be sweet
  • Tenure is good, if not a god-given right
  • Baseball games should be settled by penalty kicks after the 11th inning
At some point in time, the lightweights will figure out how unimportant, albeit interesting, their studies are to someone who's social construct is based upon the uniqueness of their handbag. And then they'll go back to their brooding.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:14 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The formal scale runs from A to F. The tacit scale runs from A to B.

As the recipient of a gentleman's C, I must disagree. I have never been so bewildered during a final exam as during that one.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:16 AM on August 5, 2008


I was drawing an annual salary of $15,500 (£7,700) and borrowing the remainder for survival in Cambridge
Translation: I am a moron.


"I had to put pleather elbow patches on my tweed jacket! Pleather!!!"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:25 AM on August 5, 2008 [7 favorites]


The careerist, ends-focused outlook of the students is an unsurprising and inevitable consequence of the shift toward more merit-based admissions standards over the past several decades, where "merit" is in part defined as having the requisite ambition and canniness to get into a top school. The traits the author bemoans in the current crop Harvard students are the exact same traits that enabled them to become Harvard students in the first place. It shouldn't be a shock, then, that smart, striving, scheming high school students don't suddenly become detached, high-minded intellectuals upon entering college, particularly when their strategies have already proven so successful at getting them to where they want to be.

We could, I suppose, return to the days of the Ivy League as "Old Boys Clubs," full of rich lunkheads. They'd probably be a lot less concerned about snagging the analyst job at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey, and probably wouldn't get nearly as worked up over the odd B- or C. I'm not sure this would be an improvement though. Alternatively, the admissions committee could do a better job of weeding out the students who turned their high school careers into four years of Mission: Harvard, though off the top of my head, I can't see how they'd do this without also sacrficing big in other areas.
posted by decoherence at 7:34 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the article:

Jared later purchased The New York Observer for $10 million, part of which he made buying and selling real estate while also attending my seminar. As publisher, one of his first moves was to reduce pay for the Observer's stable of book reviewers. I had been writing reviews for the Observer in an effort to pay my debts.


From boston.com:

However, Bob Sommer, president of the Observer Media Group, said that the Observer's budget and space allocation for books coverage have, in fact, increased during the Kushner regime, contrary to industrywide trends -- and that payments per review had not changed, either. Of John Summers, he added: "There was a deliberate editorial decision not to keep him on as a reviewer."

The amount of irony here is enough to bend space.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


I read the comments below the article, looking for the promised rumpus.

I didn't find any rumpus. What I found was that even among the smartest people with the greatest vocabularies and best reasoning skills, a two-sided argument on the internet still gets repetitive and boring after about five posts.
posted by svenni at 7:42 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bonus link: even Harvard students say they don't like Harvard.

That bonus link made me really wish I could come across that pair while they were on a canoing trip through the Appalachians.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:49 AM on August 5, 2008


I got a very good, highly intellectual education at Harvard, largely by avoiding clowns like that guy. I'm not surprised he dealt with some whiny students; there were a fair number of them. But dude, ten yards and loss of down for unsupported generalizations, and another ten for projecting your own sense of entitlement on others.
posted by grimmelm at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2008


Walking through Harvard square is like swimming in Entitlement City. You can cut the self-assured, Daddy-pays-for-my-cosmetic brain surgery attitude with a knife.
posted by oonh at 7:56 AM on August 5, 2008


Sometimes the truth hurts, and Summers is speaking some truth to the pervasive culture of tacit privilege and rampant careerism that threatens to turn higher education into little more than a networking opportunity for the sons and daughters of the monied elite: which is of course an old story, but one that needs to be re-articulated every so often. Perhaps it's not surprising that a sociologist was able to see through the ivy-clad facade of America's most fabled higher education institution in order to do so. That he wrote with such candor about a taboo topic does not mean he's bitter (as some seem to think), but rather that he is an idealist who still believes in the ideal "the life of the mind." And to dismiss such idealism without a fair listen seems hasty; if the same article had been written in 1890 or 1920, and we were reading it now as a period piece, my guess is that most people would read it as a reflection of the reality of a time when education was indeed more elitist in nature. But we're not out of the woods yet, and the ethos and economics of gilded age tends to resurface periodically. The article was meant to ruffle feathers, and it did so.

From the comments page of the Times Higher Ed link in the FPP:

Zen Prole 30 July, 2008
At Lewis Black's recent appearance in Harvard Square, he was asked
'What would you do if you were appointed president of Harvard?'

"Offer a course called "Fuck Your Entitlement Mentality."

Riotous laughter ensued, but some conspicuously didn't join in. That made many, me included, laugh even harder.


and also:

Chris Horner 5 August, 2008
The John Summers piece rings true.

And the number of angry respondents who so obviously miss the point of his article tend to support the points he was making.

If we assume they are quite intelligent people it seems that we can't dispense with the concept of ideology just yet.

posted by ornate insect at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Walking through Harvard square is like swimming in Entitlement City. You can cut the self-assured, Daddy-pays-for-my-cosmetic brain surgery attitude with a knife.

Ah, but can you mix metaphors in the vortex of petit bourgeois frustration?
posted by felix betachat at 8:07 AM on August 5, 2008


The same characteristics attributed to Harvard students could be applied to students at public colleges as well, where the tension between a single-minded focus on "vocation" and more playful "ideas" is even more acute. But I don't think you can blame the students. The freshman class that will descend on college campuses of all stripes in the coming weeks was born in 1990. They have been raised by hyper-vigilant parents within a broader cultural context that is best described as capitalism on steriods. Moreover, most colleges and universities do not internally model the types of ideals that we some how expect our students to embrace (social justice, fairness, etc.). Most universities and colleges exploit their own employees and students with the same ruthless bottom line approach that many students will adopt when they find themselves at the helm of the military-industrial-consumer complex after they graduate. The fact that Harvard, one of the richest "non-profit" institutions in the world could not naturally see the virtue of paying the janitors a living wage makes the point. Hmm. Wasn't it Harvard students a few years ago who occupied the main administration building demanding social and economic justice for the custodians? Did I just contradict my thesis? Let the rumpus continue.......
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 8:11 AM on August 5, 2008


This is not Harvard-specific. Across the academy, a generation of monsters has arisen that sees literally everything through the lens of the marketplace. The idea that there are transcendent values or that there is an institutional integrity that surpasses the entitlement of the individual is, frankly, dead. I choked the first time I received an emailed protestation from a (state school) student that began: "As a consumer, I expect..." I imagined Socrates pummeling that twit into a bloody mess of self-contradiction and self-congratulation. The idea of the classroom as a place of testing and transformation has been lost under a flood of enticements and promises. Were schools willing to suffer some loss to their endowments and risk the wrath of their donor base, they might start teaching again in earnest. Alas, until then, the real split in higher education is no longer between elite and state schools, it's between those institutions that maintain respect for the principles of a liberal education and those which have transformed themselves into corporate entities whose function is to provide a diminishing service to an ever more idiotic client base.
posted by felix betachat at 8:16 AM on August 5, 2008 [8 favorites]


I got a very good, highly intellectual education at Harvard, largely by avoiding clowns like that guy. I'm not surprised he dealt with some whiny students; there were a fair number of them. But dude, ten yards and loss of down for unsupported generalizations, and another ten for projecting your own sense of entitlement on others.
posted by grimmelm at 10:54 AM on August 5


I read the article, and nowhere did I see any complaints about whiny students. Furthermore his complaint is not about the sense of entitlement, in fact he seems to say that it was completely expected.

His complaint is the extent to which the University submits to it and subverts its ostensible mission to educate its students in favor of papering the elite students with whatever documentation they need to advance their careers.

In fact, the argument has been made decades ago that that role of the Ivies was to properly educate these elites, who it was understood would lead the nation economically and politically, to temper their use of their extensive power and wealth with some humility and compassion.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:18 AM on August 5, 2008


It's highly likely that everything Summers said about his students is all true. However, I should note that Harvard and, to a lesser degree, MIT both have a similar problem with a lot of non-tenure track faculty: they like being attached to the Harvard name and are willing to be treated like crap by the department, the university, and the students in exchange for retaining their affiliation, however tenuous. The tragic part of it is that usually they are fairly intelligent and professionally successful and would have other colleges and universities more than happy to hire them.

I'm a faculty brat and briefly flirted with the idea of going into academia myself, and everyone knew a simple rule: do not become a professor at Harvard. You won't get tenure, and the university will treat you as though they're doing you a favor by allowing you to be there. The way to do it is to become successful in your own field elsewhere and then hope that Harvard offers you a tenured position. Why did Summers think that he would be treated any different, especially as non-tenure-track faculty?
posted by deanc at 8:21 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


That he wrote with such candor about a taboo topic does not mean he's bitter (as some seem to think), but rather that he is an idealist who still believes in the ideal "the life of the mind." And to dismiss such idealism without a fair listen seems hasty;

Yes, but there is the question of over-generalization. He is, like anyone, writing to his own circumstance. As grimmelm notes above, the so called life of the mind still exists at Harvard. I took a particularly brutal course as a sophomore in Spanish Literature, where I read and discussed Quevedo and Gongora around a table with 10 other brilliant undergraduates. One of my classmates in my Shakespeare seminar was awarded a Rhodes later that year for her work in assisting the translation of Greek manuscripts. And then there was my quantum physics class, with a study partner who had won the Westinghouse competition... And so on and so on.

Yeah, there were preps and jocks. We all knew who they were. They primarily lived in Eliot house and Kirkland house. They took easy classes, "guts" as they called them, in Government and Social studies. They weren't there to participate in the life of the mind. They were there to grab their degree and then go get a job at dad's investment bank. This was reality when I was there, it is reality now and it was undoubtedly so a hundred years ago as well.

So this is the subculture this guy ran up against and, with his salary of 15k a year and his dead-end prospects at Harvard, its not hard to understand why he would be driven to bitterness.
posted by vacapinta at 8:24 AM on August 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


ornate insect: The "sons and daughters of the monied elite" generally don't need networking opportunities. They've already been plugged into the network. Contrary to what a lot of people think (not you, necessarily), the typical Ivy League student isn't the wealthy scion of a famous family, or even the son or daughter of a prosperous neurosurgeon or Wall St. lawyer. They're middle or upper middle-class kids who've managed to get their foots in the door, and, having been well-trained in the ways of getting ahead in the meritocracy, aren't about to let up for one instant. I don't fault them; it's just the way the game is played across all of society these days, or at least the way it appears to be played. Who's going to tell the first-generation Indian kid, whose parents have inculcated in him the value of hard work and ambition (but not necessarily intellectualism) from a young age, that he needs to sit back and live the life of the mind now that he's made it to Harvard? Is it any wonder that the students persist in the very same habits that got them into Harvard in the first place?
posted by decoherence at 8:24 AM on August 5, 2008


In fact, the argument has been made decades ago that that role of the Ivies was to properly educate these elites, who it was understood would lead the nation economically and politically, to temper their use of their extensive power and wealth with some humility and compassion.

George W. Bush, HBS '75
posted by jsavimbi at 8:28 AM on August 5, 2008


Interesting article - many thanks.

I teach finance part time at the Masters level at a fully accredited University in London, and we get a lot of Americans who do a term or even year abroad. For them there's an lesson to be learned in our grading - the University is aware of grade inflation in the US and we simply do not import it.

For example, a passing grade in a course is 50% - not sure about the letter equivalent - and the system works like this. Any course work accounting for 25% or more of the overall grade is marked by three different lecturers or Professors. In the Quantitative Finance track that I teach in, assessment for classes is typically structured as two hand in assignments counting 25% each, and a final counting 50%.

If someone ends up in the range 50% to 75% then almost always the grade is upheld. Any grade above 75% starts to get lots of scrutiny. I once graded a gal's midterm at 90% and that went through no fewer than five reviews before we finalised (Russian, could solve differential equations in her head as I finished writing them on the whiteboard, very, very sharp and market knowledgeable, she ended up with an 87% and interned at Goldman).

Failing grades, regardless of how close to passing or how abject, get full scrutiny as well as review by an external auditor brought in just for this purpose (this individual also spot checks passing papers).

All of this naturally lead to some interesting exchanges with American kids when graded coursework was received, in fact so many that now the University covers this during their induction. Net / net - its up to their home University to slot our grades to their internal scales as they see fit, but we as an institution still end up with (in the courses I teach, mind you) perhaps an overall average of 55% or so, 60% is doing good, 70% is really up there and anything significantly higher than 75% has the full backing and support of many, many people in our department.

And failing? Not sure of the numbers, we do take a pretty good look at everyone that enters our program, as this degree (Quantitative Finance) is very, very marketable we've got our choise of students. I'm really not sure how many are turned away, but some kids do indeed fail, every term.

I've failed more than a few and my decisions have rarely been reversed. We all feel the same way in our department - passing everyone just ain't fair to those who bust their butts, skip the parties and neglect their families.
posted by Mutant at 8:28 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


They're middle or upper middle-class kids who've managed to get their foots in the door, and, having been well-trained in the ways of getting ahead in the meritocracy, aren't about to let up for one instant.

Contrary to what you think, a lot of my classmates (in fact, mot of my friends there) weren't grade-grubbing workaholics. They were just really, really, really fucking smart.
posted by vacapinta at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


vacapinta--I favorited your response, but it's also possible the truth here is somewhere in between--and we're too concerned with the messenger in this instance. Your focus is naturally about the portrayal of the students, but I don't think the point of the article was to make Harvard students look bad; rather, the point was to raise the question of whether or not higher education is giving way to the corporatism and careerism that infects the larger society (and not necessarily careerism to make money; there is also cultural careerism). For someone to ask us this question they should not be condemned or shunted aside as being merely bitter. If the question makes us uncomfortable, it is meant to do so. The better response, it seems to me, is to ask how higher education might be improved. This is always a good question to ask, presumably.
posted by ornate insect at 8:32 AM on August 5, 2008


I have to agree with ROU_xenophobe on this one.

Once, when I proposed to teach a junior seminar entitled "Anarchist cultural criticism in America", I was instructed to go ahead only if I first changed the title to "America and its critics". Here was the same method of cultural hygiene that has transformed Harvard Square from a bohemian enclave into an outdoor mall.


This passage illustrates the viewpoint of someone so completely out of touch with the world that it is almost laughable. He wants to teach a course on anarchism. Fine. His chair/department makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion that he change the course title to something more generic, which would presumably attract more students to take the class (more students, BTW, that he can introduce to the counter-hegemonic splendors of anarchist cultural criticism). But rather than seeing this for what it is - a very minor and reasonable accommodation - he lambastes it as "cultural hygiene" on par with the razing of urban infrastructure. This is the thin, tinny whine of the revolutionary who feels entitled do have the world work exactly the way he wants it, and is outraged that it doesn't.

Are Harvard students entitled? Absolutely. Painfully so. Is there rampant grade inflation? Absolutely. But both can be overcome through a bit of hard work and by abandoning the sense of, yes, entitlement that he displays. If he took the time to try to connect with his students, earn their respect, and teach them something, rather than seeing them as tools of the capitalist hegemony that suppresses his wages and keeps him in a perpetually adjunct teaching slot, perhaps he would have had more success.

(Full disclosure: I taught at Harvard as a grad student).
posted by googly at 8:36 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


If Summers thinks sociology undergrads have a sense of entitlement, he should stay far away from any medical schools.
posted by TedW at 8:41 AM on August 5, 2008


vacapinta: I went there too. The two categories certainly aren't mutually exclusive. Part of "being smart" is knowing how to get ahead in the system you're in and exploiting all the advantages you can. In my time there (a bit later than yours, from what I gather), the students who were there strictly by virtue of intellectual accomplishments were in the minority; for most, it was a combination of natural smarts plus the canniness to "play the game" and get ahead at every stage. The sort of "college careerism" that got most of them into Harvard easily converts to just plain "careerism" once they're actually there.
posted by decoherence at 8:43 AM on August 5, 2008


Walking through Harvard square is like swimming in Entitlement City. You can cut the self-assured, Daddy-pays-for-my-cosmetic brain surgery attitude with a knife.

Ah, said by someone who hails from Meh'fuhd. I keed, I keed.
posted by ericb at 8:56 AM on August 5, 2008


Wasn't it Harvard students a few years ago who occupied the main administration building demanding social and economic justice for the custodians?

Yes. It was in April 2001. The results of their actions.

A Brief History of the Living Wage Debate at Harvard (1998 - 2002).
posted by ericb at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


ericb, I hailed from Tufts -- a.k.a. "I Didn't Get Into Hahvahd And I'm Bitter About It University" -- up the Red Line in Smvl for a while, and I completely agree about the attitude. That Cloud Of Smug eventually drove me elsewhere (and they'd closed The Tasty anyway so why stay?), but it was pretty rank. And this coming from someone for whom Tufts was the first choice!*

I knew a friend of a friend who referred to himself as one of the AGMIs: "Athletics Got Me In." They felt they were there like prized animals, to represent the university. True? I dunno, I didn't handle his file in Admissions, and he certainly seemed smart enough for a private school kid who could play good football. But he complained that the material was way over his head.

As for Mutant mentioning British standards being higher than American, I don't agree. I went to the (admittedly lower-tier) University of Reading for two terms, and I pretty much slept my way through those classes in English literature. I got good marks on the papers I turned in and for the class discussions I joined, but I wrote them in pencil on notebook paper. *shrug*

*At a party last weekend I found out that a friend's husband also started at Tufts but transferred out. Small world...
posted by wenestvedt at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2008


So with a new school year dawning shortly, I updated my application for student employment at the library. Previous applications could pretty much be summed up as "Are you breathing? Can you work Thursday evenings?" so I wanted an application that would not only highlight the abilities required working on the circ desk (ability to follow directions, knowing alphabetical and decimal order, etc) but would also let me weed out some unqualified candidates before speaking with them face to face.

So I added a ten question questionnaire to the reverse of the application's name, rank, serial number, and availability portion. The 10 questions open with a reminder to read and follow all directions before beginning. Of course, at the end of the questionnaire there is a direction instructing the applicant to only answer odd numbered questions. I want people who follow directions and remember taking a 'quiz' like this back in 3rd grade with similar instructions, a quiz that I failed at because I just charged blithely ahead filling in answers without reading all the instructions.

This new application has been available for a week and I've seen some mixed results. Some students don't answer all the questions anyways. Some ask for a new application after getting to the final instruction. One student answered all the questions and then included a note "These instructions are at the end." to explain why the were not followed. That's fine. Failure to follow the instructions in and of itself does not exile a student from a fast paced career of a student library assistant. Sure, I will likely offer positions to those that do follow the instructions (or face the realization that they didn't with good humor), but hey, when it comes down to it, "Are you breathing? Can you work Thursday evenings?" still applies.

Today was the first Work Study Orientation session, so the number of applicants shot through the roof. From the time that the session ended to the time that I had to pull my application questionnaire due to a parent complaining was two hours.

Two hours. I wasn't given any reasons, just the notification that a parent complained and therefore the tricksy instructioneses had to go.

This is the sort of thing that makes me quail in dread for the future of academia. Many of our students look at college as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to figure out how to operate on their own in the world. That's great, that's what college is for. But it feels like there is a growing minority of students (and parents) who look at college like a fundamental right, like their success is assured and woe be it to anyone who thinks otherwise. College is not about being challenged to them. It is about winning, about getting what you think you deserve, and that's that.

Someday, these folks are going to be out in the Real World (tm) and I would like to say that they're in for a rude awakening, but really, I'm not so sure. And that's really depressing. These folks may be in the minority at the moment, but unless there's some quantum shift, their numbers will grow and grow. Why should a student feel the need to study hard and bust their ass to get good grades if they find out that if they complain enough, they'll get good grades anyways? Why should students ever bother to try if someone (be it parents, a grade-inflation scheme, an institution, whatever) is always watching to make sure they get what they want?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Two hours. I wasn't given any reasons, just the notification that a parent complained and therefore the tricksy instructioneses had to go.

Ugh. Stupid helicopter parents. Seriously -- by the time you've sent them off to college, bitching and moaning about a tricksy application that hurt poor little Junior's feelings is, frankly, indicative of far too much time on your hands.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:58 AM on August 5, 2008


One of the other vexing things about the incident - we're pretty sure that rather than talk to anyone in the library about the application, the parent stood in the library and called the administration upstairs. Good jorb! No work for your precious. Now if you had actually spoken with me, I would have been happy to show you the incorrect applications of the two people I just hired. They realized they messed up, got another application, turned it in, and were hired on the spot.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:19 AM on August 5, 2008


"Once, when I proposed to teach a junior seminar entitled 'Anarchist cultural criticism in America', I was instructed to go ahead only if I first changed the title to 'America and its critics'. Here was the same method of cultural hygiene that has transformed Harvard Square from a bohemian enclave into an outdoor mall."

This passage illustrates the viewpoint of someone so completely out of touch with the world that it is almost laughable. He wants to teach a course on anarchism. Fine. His chair/department makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion that he change the course title to something more generic, which would presumably attract more students to take the class (more students, BTW, that he can introduce to the counter-hegemonic splendors of anarchist cultural criticism). But rather than seeing this for what it is - a very minor and reasonable accommodation - he lambastes it as "cultural hygiene" on par with the razing of urban infrastructure.

It's not like he wanted to call it "Why anarchism is awesome and oh by the way here's how to build BOMBS." The title was already neutrally descriptive, and the suggested change, while minor in the larger scheme of things, really does point to a setting in which the least surface deviation from a blandishingly comfortable picture of the world (America first, its unnamed critics second and subsidiary) is greeted with hesitant murmurs about the student body's consumer sensitivities. The analogy to gentrification was over the top, but I get why he's annoyed, and I can understand why he sees this small example as part of a larger, more generally problematic institutional disposition.

Besides, I would hope that his marketing instincts are sharper than his department's - if Harvard's Social Studies program really can't round up 10 to 15 twenty-year-olds more titillated by the word "anarchist" than by dowdy old "America," they might as well just blow up the building. For this purpose I will forward them the bomb-making instructions from my long-ago junior seminar on anarchism, which was called something like "Anarchism! Woo!" and which produced a cadre of fierce revolutionaries whose acts of defiance now extend to such immoderate extremes as drinking chai lattes, listening to NPR, and voting for Democrats.
posted by dyoneo at 10:42 AM on August 5, 2008 [6 favorites]


Someday, these folks are going to be out in the Real World (tm)

You mean the Real WorldTM featuring The Helicopter Parents.

I wouldn't get too worked up about, unless you feel that your career as a librarian is hampered by the efforts of the nouveau riche to get ahead despite social norms. They're simply imitating the privileges invoked by the influential who came before them and feel entitled to do so. Sooner or later they'll stop deluding themselves into thinking that their precious little snowflake is nothing but a douchebag, but that's wishful thinking.

Some people walk around clamoring for compulsory military/restaurant service for everyone to teach the realities to our populace. I'd one-up that to include living through The Great Depression, for what it's worth, but I doubt it'll make any difference. Higher education is fighting for those dollars and pandering to parents is not a problem.

Walking through Harvard square is like swimming in Entitlement City. You can cut the self-assured, Daddy-pays-for-my-cosmetic brain surgery attitude with a knife.

I couldn't disagree more with that statement. If you're looking for assaholatry, you'll find it in Harvard, Davis and Kendall Sqs. if you look hard enough, but the same can be said for Comm. Ave., Chestnut Hill and the Fens.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:49 AM on August 5, 2008


Translation: I am a moron with extraordinarily bad career-planning skills, and astonishingly ignorant of the norms of the area in which I work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:59 AM on August 5

Yes, yes and yes. I enjoyed this bit:

Once, a judge and his wife went to my supervisor to complain about a grade I had assigned to their child in a senior oral examination. They rested their complaint on the fact that I was not yet in possession of the all-encompassing credential, the PhD.

Well, why don't you write your dissertation then, fucktard? I mean complaining about your shit salary is one thing, but complaining about it because you're not in possession of the one professional qualification that you need is moronic.
posted by ob at 10:54 AM on August 5, 2008


It's stories like this that make me very happy to profess in an engineering department at a state university. Oh, sure, I still get a few obnoxious students and even the occasional helicopter parent, but most of the entitlement is "I gotz teh m4d ski11z, so I deserve an A." rather than "Shut up and give me the A I paid for." Most of the time, the discussion ends as soon as I say "No, your answer is wrong; here's a counterexample." or "Everyone was graded on the same scale; I can't raise your grade without being unfair to the other students." or "I'm sorry, but federal privacy law and university policy forbid me from discussing any student's class performance with anyone other than the student, including their parents. If you have questions about this policy, here is my department head's phone number."
posted by erniepan at 11:02 AM on August 5, 2008


For this purpose I will forward them the bomb-making instructions from my long-ago junior seminar on anarchism, which was called something like "Anarchism! Woo!" and which produced a cadre of fierce revolutionaries whose acts of defiance now extend to such immoderate extremes as drinking chai lattes, listening to NPR, and voting for Democrats.

S'ok, it could be worse. A friend of mine once joined the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade to -- and I quote -- "meet cute boys." With those kinds of reasoning skills, you can guess how she ended up in life.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:04 AM on August 5, 2008


Summers sets himself up for it, no doubt, both by trading on Harvard's name to air his point more widely and by giving his own unenviable (and perhaps ill-advised) emplyoment and financial details. But I'm still dismayed by all this ad hominem vitriol. (One of the Times Higher commenters wrote "The author was an adjunct lecturer, by definition the academic dregs" – has this person got any idea what the employment situation is like in the humanities and social sciences? There are hordes of intelligent and qualified adjuncts out there.)

Surely even a lowly ABD adjunct has every right to make cutting observations about the culture of passive consumerism and uncritical entitlement among his supposedly intellectual-elite students. "Write your dissertation, fucktard" may be good advice for him (it is!), but it doesn't address his point.
posted by RogerB at 11:07 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't get too worked up about, unless you feel that your career as a librarian is hampered by the efforts of the nouveau riche to get ahead despite social norms.

No, robocop's career as a librarian will be hampered by the inability to hire library assistants with enough attention to detail to put the frarkin' books in order.
posted by jrochest at 11:17 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Write your dissertation, fucktard" may be good advice for him (it is!), but it doesn't address his point.

What is his point, exactly? I'm unhappy at my job because I'm forced to comply with rules my employers set to enable my clients to interact with me without being made to feel like they're stupid? One of my students used his father's money to buy one of my employers and subsequently forced me out? I bought into the higher education mantra? Why do I need a stinkin' PhD?

Victims will always be. It's in their nature and nothing will change that. Unfortunately for him, he decided to be indiscreet and name names. That's a piss poor choice if there ever was one.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2008


I expected a real philippic, but that essay was more like 'uncle Phil has the hiccups'.

Not that Summers doesn't have some good points, but the most essential one eludes him: American Wealth is at the verge of realizing its long dream of transforming itself into a genuine feudal aristocracy of the sort that enjoyed Russia before the revolution, and France, and so on.

This is why calling Bush the worst President in history rings hollow; he isn't our worst President, he is our first King-- and, as his most fervent supporters now assert in his favor, whether he was elected or not is irrelevant, since he was chosen by God. The Constitution and our laws no longer apply; Bush's authority is the Divine Right of Kings.

The scions of wealth who attend Harvard are not primarily students, they are Dukes and Earls and Barons waiting to come into their own, and their contempt for the jumped up pantry boy who presumes to judge them is only intensified by his laughable blindness to these obvious facts.
posted by jamjam at 11:24 AM on August 5, 2008


OB, that's not a complaint about his salary and his qualifications, that's a complaint about goddamned helicopter parents and whiny bitches. I've been graded by phds and non-phds and that wasn't remotely an issue. At what level are your qualifications as a parent or a student that you dispute your professor's judgment based on their degree?

I mean dispute their judgment sure, use reason and argument, go ahead, but you are going to appeal to their lack of authority? Presumably if you had a phd they wouldn't still be grading you.

Robocop...that's a really old and lame trick but the parental slap down is down right insane. I just don't understand how a complaint without further reasoning could possibly change your procedure. I mean, if your administration felt that your trick was old and tired then I'd understand a bit though it's still uptight (professors and academics of all stripes are fans of hokey tricks.)
posted by Wood at 11:28 AM on August 5, 2008


If you're looking for assaholatry, you'll find it in...the Fens.

You'll find more than just assholes in the Fens.
posted by ericb at 11:30 AM on August 5, 2008


Yeah, I know that the sentence I quoted doesn't deal with his salary but rather with parents questioning his skills, but he does start out by bitching about his salary, and how he can't make ends meet. In that specific instance the parents were questioning him because he doesn't have a PhD. Many people outside academia don't know what a PhD is, so to them, out of two instructors, the more qualified to teach their child is the PhD. I know that he has more teaching experience, but without the professional qualification that he needs neither the parents or the university are going to treat him like a fully-fledged academic. That may well suck, but that's the way it is.

As far as entitled kids are concerned this is true of all Ivy Leagues, and again, this should be expected. Students are going to complain about their grades no matter what. They are really going to have a go at the instructors and adjuncts and they might try with the non-tenured faculty. It's a bitch but it's a product of how these parents have brought up their children and it's just the way that these places are. I do sympathize with some of his points, but he really could have written this whole article differently.
posted by ob at 11:47 AM on August 5, 2008


Wood: The amount of time and hassle it would take to defend my admittedly lame trick to an administration that's harried by the impending start of the school year just isn't worth it. If I had folks calling me up and saying that I must hire so-and-so's kid, then yeah, I'd fight that, but for a third grade gotcha? Eh. There are better things to quest after.

It's just disappointing.

This is not to say that all the students here are gimme gimme gimme jerks or that all their parents are currently circling outside the windows. One of the best examples I've seen involved a student who used one of our borrowed laptops like a Trapper Keeper. She piled a bunch of stuff on the keyboard and then slammed the screen down on it, shattering it. Unlike some of our students who try to hide their mistakes, she came up to the desk and admitted what she did. When I pointed out that the paperwork she filled out to borrow the laptop said she was liable for it (to the tune of 2,500$) she was understandably upset, but understood. She called up her dad, who spoke with me, and also acknowledged that she was at fault and asked about setting up a payment plan. I was floored. I expected to be fought tooth and nail about this by both the parents and the administration. So floored was I, I went to my director to see if he could work his strange warranty magic with Dell to get the laptop fixed for free, and after hearing how the student owned up to her mistake, he did. So we waived the charge.

I don't doubt that if the student had been lest honest about what she did or if her parents raised a stink, the library would have had to eat that charge. Yeah, we might have been able to work the warranty magic, but that would have been after weeks of going round and round over the issue (and it turned out that Dell's warranty/support folks were all switched out to a new, harsher company a few weeks later).

I wish there was some way we could reward the student for doing the right thing - waiving the fine isn't enough because they could have done the wrong thing to avoid it. I told the father that he had raised his child well and hope that positive reinforcement was enough.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:08 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


You'll find more than just assholes in the Fens.

Just do as the locals do and avoid Agassiz Rd. and the Victory Gardens after dark. And Machine. Definitely avoid Machine.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2008


The scions of wealth who attend Harvard are not primarily students, they are Dukes and Earls and Barons waiting to come into their own, and their contempt for the jumped up pantry boy who presumes to judge them is only intensified by his laughable blindness to these obvious facts.

The only way I can imagine anyone saying this is if they'd never actually come into contact with students at Harvard or any other elite college. There are a few of the types you describe still floating around (certainly more than you'd come across at, say, Fresno State), but the common denominator these days is no longer sheer wealth and exalted birthright, as it may have been 80 years ago, but something closely approximating merit. Such a system has its own regrettable consequences -- the sort of grade-grubbing, career-minded behavior criticized in the article is a direct result of it, I'd argue -- but one thing it doesn't promote is the sort of plutocracy you've described.
posted by decoherence at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2008


I have a man-crush on Mr. Louis Black and I don't care who knows it.
posted by Dizzy at 2:16 PM on August 5, 2008


You know who else went to Harvard?

That's right: Patrick Bateman.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:15 PM on August 5, 2008


There are a few of the types you describe still floating around (certainly more than you'd come across at, say, Fresno State), but the common denominator these days is no longer sheer wealth and exalted birthright, as it may have been 80 years ago, but something closely approximating merit.

The only breakdown I could find in a really fast google search suggests that half of Harvard students come from families who earn more than $180,000. (And that's just income; household wealth tends to be even more skewed to the rich.)

I'm not disparaging the merit of an average Harvard student, just suggesting that wealth certainly plays a part.
posted by Forktine at 3:41 PM on August 5, 2008


...suggests that half of Harvard students come from families who earn more than $180,000.

From your link:
"About half of Harvard’s undergraduate student body is in the group [which is eligible for the new financial aid plan] with incomes up to $180,000 and so will benefit in one or more ways from the changes, which are expected to cost about $22 million annually. But because Harvard officials said that they hoped the plan would attract new, less wealthy applicants, the share of undergraduates eligible could grow over time."
This references the significant changes in the costs associated in attending Harvard -- and the continuing trend of focusing on merit for admission.

From the previous thread to which vacapinta referenced above.
Harvard provides "free rides" to students who come from families with incomes below $60,000.
"In the winter of 2004, under the leadership of President Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard transformed the financial aid landscape with its announcement that families with annual incomes below $40,000 would not be expected to pay for their sons or daughters to go to Harvard. The zero-contribution threshold was raised to $60,000 in 2006, with further reductions in parental contributions for families with incomes up to $80,000. Over the past three years, the number of students in these income ranges has increased by 33 percent, representing a quarter of the entering Class of 2011."*
This past December new Harvard President Drew Faust announced a "Zero to 10 Percent Standard" financial aid program:
"Harvard’s new financial aid policy dramatically reduces the amount families with incomes below $180,000 will be expected to pay. Families with incomes above $120,000 and below $180,000 and with assets typical for these income levels will be asked to pay 10 percent of their incomes. For those with incomes below $120,000, the family contribution percentage will decline steadily from 10 percent, reaching zero for those with incomes at $60,000 and below. For example, a typical family making $120,000 will be asked to pay approximately $12,000 for a child to attend Harvard College, compared with more than $19,000 under existing student aid policies. For a typical family with $180,000 of income, the payment would be approximately $18,000, compared with more than $30,000 today. The new standard reduces the cost to families by one-third to one-half, making the price of a Harvard education for students on financial aid comparable to the cost of in-state tuition and fees at the nation’s leading public universities. The new initiative also establishes a standard that students and their families can easily understand."*
There has been an ongoing discussion at Harvard about adopting a "tuition-free model" for all students: Why Can't Harvard Be Free?
posted by ericb at 3:58 PM on August 5, 2008


I do like Harvard's financial aid policy. Definitely a step in the right direction.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:22 PM on August 5, 2008


Besides, I would hope that his marketing instincts are sharper than his department's

The fact that he seems to think that the best way for him to market himself is to take a series of one-year mostly-administrative jobs that don't even pay his living expenses instead of finishing his fucking dissertation means that his marketing instincts are about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:27 PM on August 5, 2008


From your link:

"About half of Harvard’s undergraduate student body is in the group [which is eligible for the new financial aid plan] with incomes up to $180,000 and so will benefit in one or more ways from the changes, which are expected to cost about $22 million annually. But because Harvard officials said that they hoped the plan would attract new, less wealthy applicants, the share of undergraduates eligible could grow over time."

This references the significant changes in the costs associated in attending Harvard -- and the continuing trend of focusing on merit for admission.


I think we are putting the emphasis on different parts of that sentence. You are saying "look, Harvard is getting more meritocratic," while I'm saying "woah, over half of the Harvard student body comes from the top five percent of households by income."

Our readings aren't contradictory at all — Harvard is becoming more meritocratic by some measures, but at the same time wealth clearly remains a factor. Harvard's student body never has and never will mirror the demographics of the nation (nor perhaps should it); I was responding to previous comments that I thought overemphasized merit in order to deemphasize privilege.

I'm a product of elite educational institutions that are at least as snobby about themselves as is Harvard — I know full well about glass houses and rock throwing, so don't read this as a critique of elite educational institutions. However, people at those places tend to create stories of merit, and to leave out all the support that has enabled them to express that merit.

But I think we are in agreement that the recent moves by Harvard and other elite schools to remove barriers of cost to most or all students is a really significant move, and deserves a lot of applause. The real question becomes, I think, how to broaden that expansion of access beyond the few thousand students lucky enough to attend a Harvard, Princeton, or Yale — how can barriers of cost be removed for students at other, less well-endowed schools? That's not a problem for Harvard alone to solve, but at the same time when they are sitting on endowments of that many billions of dollars, it is a discussion that Harvard and other elite schools are searching for their voice.
posted by Forktine at 6:53 PM on August 5, 2008


My cousin taught at Harvard. She said the students made fun of her clothes in the course evaluations.
posted by ducky l'orange at 7:08 PM on August 5, 2008


I think we are putting the emphasis on different parts of that sentence. You are saying "look, Harvard is getting more meritocratic," while I'm saying "woah, over half of the Harvard student body comes from the top five percent of households by income."
True, but, seriously, coming from a family whose household income is $200,000 makes one the child of two engineers or a physician, not the "The scions of wealth who ... are Dukes and Earls and Barons waiting to come into their own." They're from the career-oriented upper middle classes.

A few Harvard grads will end up being the wealthy financiers and politically powerful elite. Others will end up in academia. A few will end up downwardly mobile, and the vast majority will blend into the anonymous millions that make up the upper middle class professionals. Are they really the American aristocracy?

In any case, plenty of scions of wealth don't have the grades or academic motivation to get into Harvard. They go to S____ L_______ college where they hobnob with the other scions of wealth and privilege who didn't get into Harvard and end up doing fine in life.
posted by deanc at 8:35 PM on August 5, 2008


Yeah two engineers or a physician, that basically describes the parents of the people I met on my way to a phd. Or a doctor, or two professors, or an international banker. I guess not aristocracy but pretty much the next generation of the same that's for sure.

Anyway I can't relate to helicopter parents. I went to UC Berkeley when I was 16. Touting my ancient credentials here because I guess going to a big public school a bit young might be considered mitigating factors. But my parents never spoke to anyone at my school except at the occasional social event, maybe once a year...graduation, if I got an honor, that sort of thing.

I'm wasn't even that emancipated. My parents paid for college, I lived at home in the summer. But they never would have considered getting involved in a dispute about grades. What would they say?
posted by Wood at 9:12 PM on August 5, 2008


They go to S____ L_______ college

Sarah Lawrence College?
posted by ericb at 9:13 PM on August 5, 2008


Although perhaps I'm a bit off point. Big public school kind of means there wouldn't have been anyone to listen to them bitch if they'd wanted to. I used to laugh (god I was a snot) at folks who bitched about the curve. "Hello, there's 250 people in this physics class: the curve is fine."
posted by Wood at 9:16 PM on August 5, 2008


True, but, seriously, coming from a family whose household income is $200,000 makes one the child of two engineers or a physician, not the "The scions of wealth who ... are Dukes and Earls and Barons waiting to come into their own." They're from the career-oriented upper middle classes.

Well, sort of — we are talking $180k and up... and it goes a long way up from there.

But even your modest two-earner couple are still in the top 5% of household incomes. Check out the income distribution charts here.

My point isn't that that dentist/teacher couple are stunningly rich; it's that almost everyone else is comparatively really poor. And Harvard (and similar schools) draw the bulk of their students from the upper strata of our country's economic classes.

So it's meritocratic, but somehow managing to be meritocratic in a way that perpetuates current privileges, rather than serving as a pathway of advancement. The very recent changes to the tuition and loan programs at those schools may change this; we will have a much clearer idea of how big the impact is in a few years.

And let me emphasize again in great big letters — I came out of those kinds of schools, and work in them now, and personally benefit greatly from this system. I'm not on the outside throwing brickbats, and I think that there is far more good than bad in the current system.

At the same time, the overemphasis on meritocratic fables rubs me the wrong way, and certainly does not describe the elite educational institutions with which I am intimately familiar. And based on the stories of friends who taught at (or currently teach at) Harvard, "meritocratic" is not the first adjective that springs to mind from a professor's point of view at that school, either.
posted by Forktine at 9:31 PM on August 5, 2008


Forktine: At the point Harvard gets them, though, they really are selecting for merit, at least as its reflected by academic achievement to date. Merit, after all, isn't synonymous with natural potential; it's natural potential heavily mediated by years of education.

Certainly a lot of kids might have better test scores and objective academic achievement if they'd had better educations. But the fact is they don't. And it's tough to say that Harvard should select the lower-achieving, under-privileged student over the higher-achieving, relatively privileged one on the grounds that the under-privileged student might have achieved the same or more in some idealized world where circumstances were much improved. This is why even if Harvard fully funds tuition for anyone with a family income under $200k and beats the streets looking for hidden pockets of qualified students, the class composition won't actually change much at all.

In other words, undoubtedly a problem exists, but the problem is in the conditions that allow kids to realize merit in the first place, and not in the late-stage college admissions sorting mechanism that merely picks it out. And unless Harvard's going to begin building elementary schools, I'm not sure what they can do.
posted by decoherence at 11:57 PM on August 5, 2008


There are hordes of intelligent and qualified adjuncts out there

I don't think some of the posters here realize how terrible the academic job market is. Unless an academic is really, really lucky, he/she is underemployed. So, let's say Summers loves academia. His dream is a life in academia. (Not my dream, but I'm not academic.) Is he a moron for having a crappy salary?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:23 AM on August 6, 2008


I do like Harvard's financial aid policy. Definitely a step in the right direction.

Fuck Harvard's financial aid Policy. There is now reason the school should be as expensive as it is with the endowment they have. Brad Delong broke down the differences between what the UC system did with the money they had and what Harvard did with it. One of the best arguments for socialism I've ever read.
posted by afu at 1:34 AM on August 6, 2008


Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich, and you're going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs. And take them down.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:31 AM on August 6, 2008


This is why even if Harvard fully funds tuition for anyone with a family income under $200k and beats the streets looking for hidden pockets of qualified students, the class composition won't actually change much at all.

In other words, undoubtedly a problem exists, but the problem is in the conditions that allow kids to realize merit in the first place, and not in the late-stage college admissions sorting mechanism that merely picks it out.


I've known a few people who worked for the Harvard Admissions office and you basically have just described their biggest lament. They do send out recruiters to inner-city schools looking for those golden kids who managed to do well against severe adversity. You might say the Admissions Officers (the ones I met) have a soft spot for these kinds of kids. The theory being that if they were able to succeed in a war-zone, or as orphans, or while supporting their immigrant family - then Harvard should be a cake walk for them.

Paradoxically, the problem these recruiters have is that they have to fight against Harvard's reputation as a snooty, elitist place where these kids would not really be welcome:

It might seem counterintuitive that top schools need to recruit students, or market themselves, at all. But these schools are more than slightly aware that, particularly in regions where their institutions are not household names, they have snooty reputations. And that, Fitzsimmons acknowledges, is what the admissions-department public-relations work is designed to combat. (The powerful legend, based in considerable historic fact, is that Harvard takes the creme de la creme from Exeter, Andover, Choate and the like, and doesn't bother looking elsewhere.)

posted by vacapinta at 6:02 AM on August 6, 2008


I don't think some of the posters here realize how terrible the academic job market is.

Do you mean me? Because I've been on the one side of academic interviews about eight times, and on the other maybe ten.

Is he a moron for having a crappy salary?

No.

He's a moron because he sought out and accepted, year on year, a job that doesn't even pay his living expenses, takes vast amounts of time so he can't finish his dissertation, and that is of little or no value in the eyes of most search committees. That point when he decided to take that job at Harvard instead of staying put in Rochester and taking some job without "Harvard" in the description? Only a moron would have made that choice. Or, I'll grant, someone given spectacularly awful advice by morons.

He would have been smarter to just work as a barista in a local Starbucks or slinging books at a local B&N or Borders -- he'd still only be able to write his dissertation in his spare time, but at least Rochester is cheap and he'd have easy access to his advisors.

He's not a moron because he's paid poorly. He's a moron because he is making short-term job choices that are actively sabotaging his chances at his dream.

For the past several years, he hasn't been an academic. He's been on semi-working holiday in Boston, at great expense.

And the relevant point is that I don't see much reason to listen to complaints about academia from someone who as yet hasn't been able to navigate its clearly-marked harbor, much less the treacherous paths farther on. That, and his remarks are as eye-rollingly stereotypical of the Bitterly Serious Grad Student as "You don't understand me!" and "But we're in love, and you don't understand!" are of teenagers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:12 AM on August 6, 2008


My cousin taught at Harvard. She said the students made fun of her clothes in the course evaluations.

Bah. So did the kids I taught this summer, and plenty of them were from the inner-city schools Harvard could only dream of recruiting from...and on top of that, the poser art dork (PAD) in charge flat out LET one of them rip into me for 20 minutes one day because he wanted to "facilitate conversation." (It's not really facilitating a conversation when it's one-sided and involves you not being able to say anything in response, is it?)

People are very frequently jerks. The mark of professionalism is knowing when to shut up, because unless you've got crazy amounts of cash, it rarely does you any good to complain or even defend yourself when you're in an untenable position. You've got to keep your eyes on what will be best for you and your career, and just move on.

PAD clearly didn't like me very much. In fact, PAD reminded me of some of the younger stockbrokers I used to work with once upon a time, a comparison that would probably fatally wound his fragile little art ego. So after I poured out a dozen plus pages of response to his (frankly, hilarious, and often factually untrue) review of my work, I put them away in the deep recesses of my hard drive and didn't send them over to the organization after all. I sure as hell didn't go posting them on my blog, or write an article like this one. I have bigger fish to fry in my chosen career path, and his skewed opinion of me doesn't affect the fishing at all.

ROU_Xenophobe's comment "his remarks are as eye-rollingly stereotypical of the Bitterly Serious Grad Student as "You don't understand me!" and "But we're in love, and you don't understand!" are of teenagers." brought the above comparison to mind. Dealing with such willfully ignorant people as this guy is an awful lot like dealing with teenagers.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:20 AM on August 6, 2008


He's not a moron because he's paid poorly. He's a moron because he is making short-term job choices that are actively sabotaging his chances at his dream.

That makes sense, thanks for explaining. (I was feeling defensive for all of my underpaid and underemployed academic friends who hustle and hustle to string together teaching gigs, publish papers, apply for every permanent position out there, all the while struggling financially and WRT health insurance, etc.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2008


Yeah, again ROU_Xenophobe said it. I wasn't having a go at him because he loves academia, I was having a go at him because if he really, really loves academia and wants to be an academic he should right his motherfucking dissertation. That's the point. My comments come from the standpoint of someone who understands quite well what academia is like, but I cannot for the life of me understand why he would teach for six years at a woefully underpaid level and still not be able to apply for a basic faculty job at East Buttfuck University.
posted by ob at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2008


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