Post Academic

Tell us something we don’t know: Gladwell on the U.S. News college rankings

"Malcolm Gladwell" by Kris Krug (Creative Commons license)

So this Malcolm Gladwell piece from The New Yorker (subscription req’d) about the U.S. News college rankings has been kinda making the rounds, if mostly because of who’s writing the piece.  I should begin by explaining that pretty much know little about Gladwell besides whatever’s floating in the cultural ether, except for his Sideshow Bob-like looks and that his speaking honorarium needs to be subsidized by Goldman Sachs or something (reportedly $80,000), so this post makes no comment or critique on his best-selling zeitgeist-tapping works.  But what he has to offer by way of critiquing the U.S. News rankings doesn’t really count as new news, especially to anyone who’s spent a good part of her/his life in academia.

For those of you who can’t get behind The New Yorker paywall, here are the main points:

1. College rankings are no more reliable than car ratings or suicide rate measurements: Or, in other words, there’s no objective measure to why one college is rated higher than another when subjective factors come into play, no matter how authoritative U.S. News tries to make itself appear.  Really, did Gladwell need to make his point about the college rankings by using a clever lede about how consumers of automobiles have different priorities in determining which car is for them or mixing in how cultural influences and the problem of intention complicate what’s defined as a suicide, thereby complicating how suicide rates are measured? The basic point is this: U.S. News has a secret algorithmic formula in determining its rankings, but Gladwell wonders who’s to say why the criteria are weighted the way they are.  That’s simple enough, isn’t it?

More about how Gladwell is right, but not particularly profound, below the fold…



The Return of Broke Ass!: Sex, Drugs, Janitorial Services

How long has it been since we’ve written up a broke ass piece?  When we did, it was all about broke ass schools and how they can’t pay for anything, like stuff schools need from faculty and departments.  It seems like broke ass schools have passed the savings on to students and post academics, who’ve resorted to all the means mentioned above in the title to make ends meet:

Broke Ass, Now with More Ass!: Dateline, China — This story from the L.A. Times tells how female college students in China are working it, making a living from basically being kept women with drama school types charging up to $25,000 to B-schoolers getting $5000.  The article, however, doesn’t look at the phenomenon from the angle of gender dynamics so much — actually, the piece reads pretty anti-Chinese women,focusing on describing them as “ambitious and frostily pragmatic” and using “paid sex as a strategy”,  rather than emphasizing how the men are horndog sleezebags.  Overall, the underlying point of the article is to use this situation as yet another example of how the Chinese don’t do capitalism the right way and that maybe it isn’t for them: As author Megan Stack puts it, “In China, everybody seems to be selling something these days.  Advertising crowds the skyline and the roadsides.  A closed country has opened up in a span of decades, and is experiencing an economic boom that has introduced new desires and an ‘anything goes’ mentality.”

Before Georgetown became a big ol' meth lab--we think ("Georgetown University and Canoe Club 1910s," Public Domain)

Was Meth Lab One of Your Freshman Dorm Options?: Back here in the good ol’ United States, our students make pocket money the old fashioned way, by manufacturing drugs.  Last week, two Georgetown students and a University of Richmond student were arrested for creating a drug lab in a frosh dorm room on the Georgetown campus.  The reaction seems to be two-fold, that no one should be shocked that heavy-duty drug use happens at a hoity-toity school like G’town and that meth labs are kinda commonplace on campuses across the country, like at U Central Florida and SMU.

Overqualified and Underemployed?  This Is News?: A few of my Facebook friends posted this opinion piece from the Chronicle — reader beware, it’s basically one of those anti-college screeds about how higher ed doesn’t pay off written by an econ prof who runs his own center — that notes there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.s.  What I wanna know is whether or not working custodial actually pays better than being a marginally employed freeway flyer?  And does it have better benefits too?

In honor of MLA JIL opening day: Revisiting “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 16, 2010
Tags: , ,

"Copies of The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Surival Handbook..." by BrokenSphere (Creative Commons license)

So today is basically like Christmas day for the English and Comp Lit types looking for jobs, because the MLA Job Information List is finally up!  Many folks have been waiting for months and months for this day, which might explain why I can’t get on the or JIL sites.  Once their servers ever de-slam, and provided someone renews UCI’s subscription, we’ll try to offer some anecdotal analysis comparing this year’s initial job listings to last year’s edition.  Otherwise, we’ll just have to check and re-check the Academic Jobs Wiki today in hopes that someone will repost the jobs–might as well develop that habit and bookmark the site now, because it’s gonna happen sooner or later!

But to mark the occasion, we’re gonna give you a little homework in preparing for the job market and provide a little historical context.  We’re reposting a piece from this spring around when the blog just started, which basically digested the very sad and depressing numbers released by the MLA “Mid Year Report.”  I guess you could say that the report was “comforting,” since it pretty much confirmed that it wasn’t your fault you couldn’t find an academic job–2009 really was the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”  Here’s hoping things are better this year, since they couldn’t be worse–could they?

This little nugget from the MLA via an Inside Higher Ed news blurb (forwarded to me by Caroline) all but confirms what many of us have known empirically or surmised: that the current manifestation of the job market is the worst ever — or at least since almost all current first-time job seekers were born.  According to a MLA midyear report, advertised job openings dropped from 1,380 English positions in 2008-09 to a projected 1,000 positions in 2009-10; for foreign languages, the drop went from 1,227 to a projected 900.  Most startlingly, the raw numbers indicate that this the fewest number of job openings in at least 35 years (see Figure 1 from the MLA report).  For job seekers looking for their first tenure-track position, the stats may even be worse, with only 165(!) T/T Assistant Prof positions in English and 97(!!) in Foreign Languages advertised in the “big” October 2009 Job Information List (see Figure 5 and Figure 6, respectively).

Check out how quickly this decline has hit the profession:

Year: Total Job Openings (English numbers/Foreign Language numbers) and Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Openings in Oct 2009 (E/FL)

2005-06: 1,687 E/ 1,381 FL total and 412 E/ 231 FL Asst Prof

2006-07: 1,793 E/ 1,591 FL total and 474 E/ 267 FL Asst Prof

2007-08: 1,826 E/ 1,680 FL (The highest number of openings since 1999-2000) and 384 E/ 244 FL  Asst Prof

2008-09: 1,380 E/ 1,227 FL and 299E / 236 FL Asst Prof (Keep in mind that many, many openings were cut after they were advertised in Fall 2008, at various stages of the process)

2009-10: 1,000 E/ 900 FL total (projection) and 165 E/ 97 FL Asst Prof

More bad news, below the fold…


A Middle Ground Between Tenured Faculty and Adjuncts?

The New York Times set up a debate called “Rethinking College Tenure.” You’ve probably already read it, and it’s the usual Tenure Debate stuff, in which various types who should know something about the subject make their points, some dude whines that conservatives are oppressed and someone gently hints that tenured professors are lazy, oblivious or both. (Read Arnold’s in-flight adventure to figure out how to respond to that myth.)

If you read through the NYT articles again, you’ll notice a thread in which tenured faculty members are pitted against adjuncts, or a “more flexible” job model. If adjuncts are treated fairly and receive the pay and benefits they deserve, where does that put tenured professors? What’s the real difference between the two? Should there be a difference?

Or, are debates like these a manifestation of a divide-and-conquer strategy, a setup for a Tenure Vs. Adjunct Showdown? One of the writers, Mark C. Taylor, attempts to offer a “middle ground”:

It is a mistake to pose this question in all-or-nothing terms – either you have permanent tenured faculty or itinerant adjuncts. A middle ground will address most of the problems. After a trial period of three to five years, faculty members who merit promotion should be given seven-year renewable contracts. For this system to work effectively, these reviews must be rigorous and responsible.

Since I’m not an academic, a guaranteed job for three to five years followed by seven year periods sounds nice, especially since I’ve been through layoffs. But the Hamster World is a different matter since it is more subject to market forces, and Taylor’s solution doesn’t address how to protect academic freedom so that the market isn’t determining the curriculum. How does Taylor’s idea sound to you? If it sounds like BS, is a middle ground possible?

Broke-Ass Schools: The Literal Edition

Posted in Absurdities,Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on July 23, 2010
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Just a quick post: When we started the “Broke-Ass Schools” section, we focused more on departments shutting down and the like. Our emphasis was on the “broke,” not the “ass.”

Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Texas A&M plans to save money by not stocking dorms with toilet paper.

The toilet paper elimination would begin in August 2011, giving the university enough time to inform the students and ensure that campus stores are stocking it. At that point, toilet paper will no longer be provided in residence hall bathrooms shared by up to four people; the university will continue to supply it in larger bathrooms, administrative office areas, and public areas.

Okay, fine. The TP will be in the bigger bathrooms, and learning how to buy TP is part of growing up. But I am hoping this is some sort of desperate PR ploy so Texas A&M can get attention for its budget troubles. When you’re starting to squeeze the Charmin, either your priorities have gone awry or you need a new accountant.

Broke-Ass Schools: The last Middlesex U-or Kingston U-Philosophy update

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Arnold Pan on June 26, 2010
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This will probably be the last update on the Middlesex U Philosophy Center saga that has been going on for a few months now, which brought out some of the world’s best-known philosophy types to tackle the growing epidemic of broke-ass schools.  This is finally the final word on the matter,  because there’s a happy ending to the story: The highly rated Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), which was downsized at Middlesex despite being it’s top-rated program, is headed to Kingston University in London.  The CRMEP’s renowned M.A. and Ph.D. programs will continue on at Kingston, and all the students and some of the staff will be able to move with the program.

"Kingston University" by demian (Creative Common license)

The way the Save Middlesex Philosophy blog sees it, the decision by Kingston to take on the CRMEP is pretty much an in-your-face to the bean-counting admin at Middlesex–maybe they could hire one of those “Wide Load” house-moving trucks that take up two lanes on the freeway to metaphorically up and leave Middlesex for Kingston!  Part of the story is that Kingston is expanding its humanities programs, so maybe one school’s dead-weight is another’s potential moneymaker.  According to the blog:

Unlike Middlesex, Kingston is expanding rather than cutting back its provision in humanities subjects, and it is investing in research in these areas. In addition to taking on CRMEP staff, Kingston will be making a number of other high-level appointments over the coming months, and is launching its own London Graduate School in conjunction with colleagues from several other Universities internationally.  We believe that Kingston will provide an enthusiastic and supportive base for the activities of the CRMEP.

Apparently, a few other institutions on the continent are itching to collaborate with the CRMEP, so maybe this whole situation has only helped to boost its international profile.  The blog also points out how the multi-national effort to save Middlesex–or, rather, Kingston, now–philosophy has galvanized movements to protect at-risk humanities depts in England and elsewhere.  In any case, some folks really, really deserve to take some time off this summer–Congrats for giving us an example of self-preservation, Kingston U Philosophy!

How to Avoid Student Loan Debt

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you insist on taking out a loan for graduate school, remember …

Don’t do it. That’s the easiest way for potential grad students to avoid student loan debt.

But who are we to get in the way of a career dream? So, if you insist …

Don’t take out anything more than you think you can make in the first year. Assume that you’ll be employed at a state school, not at a private school. Visit sites that list the salaries of state employees, and look up the salaries of people you know are assistant professors in your field. (It’s a lot more polite than asking people what they make.) Type in “state employees salary database” in Google and see what comes up. Many newspapers keep a database for muckraking purposes. If you’re in California, start here:

Get federal loans at a fixed rate. Perkins or Stafford loans, for example, come from the government, and they have a fixed rate. You don’t want to get a private loan with a variable rate. That variable rate might seem low when you first get the loan, but it can go up based on market whimsy, and the market has been unusually whimsical as of late. At least with a fixed rate, you will have an easier time setting a budget.

More after the jump! Cover of Bleak House from Wikimedia Commons. (more…)

Broke-Ass Schools: The Tenure Track

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,Housekeeping by postacademic on June 13, 2010
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(Programming note: Our regular readers might be expecting the week-in-review we usually do on Sundays, but those same folks might have noticed that that Caroline and Arnold–along with Dr. E. Clair this week!–have been taking turns posting every other day, instead of both posting daily.  That’s because we’re switching to a more relaxed pace for the summer, since our academic audience out there is probably doing more fun stuff during their vacations and there might not be as much news to cover during the next few months–plus, as post academics, we’re also used to a slightly slower summer schedule, even if it doesn’t apply to us any more!  Anyway, it would be pretty lame recapping a week when there isn’t too much material to work with, so we’ll just be offering regular posts on Sundays through the summer.)

Right now, we’re going to try and launch the first “Broke Ass Schools” spinoff–“Broke-Ass Schools: The Tenure Track”.  Here’s where we could use your help too: Please pass along any questions about tenure you might have, as well as news stories about the tenure process you seen online.  Also, any kinds of info you know about the bureaucratic absurdities of tenure would also be much appreciated.  Things we’d like to cover include:

* The differences between how the process works at various institutions

* Quantitative vs. qualitative assessment

* How much crazy documentation do you really have to fill out?

* Is it true that some schools *never* tenure Asst Profs, and what do you do if you’re teaching there?

* What happens if or when you don’t get tenure?

We would prefer that any leads you send our way aren’t too personal or scandalous, because we don’t really want to trade in gossip or get anyone in trouble!  But learning about the process would be helpful in demystifying it as well as maybe possibly practical for folks putting together their tenure files.  And who knows, maybe this series of posts can become a support group for those of you in that stressful position?

"DePaul University's downtown Chicago campus" by Kmf164 (Creative Commons license)

To get things started, we came across this story posted on Inside Higher Ed about some discrepancies about the tenure process at DePaul U in Chicago.  Apparently, what generated the controversy was the tenuring of 2 faculty members who were initially not on the tenure track, but were placed on it and became made men, so to speak.  The beef that other faculty had was not so much with these individual folks, but with a process they viewed as arbitrary, since the tenured faculty in question never had to face the rigorous review that begins when you start on the tenure track.  The quote-of-quotes in this matter belongs to Associate Prof of computing and new media, Robin Burke, who described the decision made at discretion of the Provost as “the Leona Helmsley tenure process”–as in “only the little people are reviewed for tenure”, riffing off the Queen of Mean’s chestnut that “only the little people pay taxes”.

As the story points out, this one-time deal isn’t exactly starting a trend at DePaul where quality adjuncts and contingent faculty are going to get similar treatment.  It’s more a matter of self-preservation and self-promotion for a program to hold onto some valuable contributors.  That does beg the question, though, as to why this can’t happen more often, where people who have offered a lot to a given program and have proven themselves can’t get reclassified and promoted up the ranks or given a chance to do so by the dept opening up a new line for ’em (though I’m imagining that budgets don’t exactly allow for this).  The cynical answer would be that adjuncts and contingent faculty will continue to teach for you because they have to, so why pay more for their services?

Broke-Ass Schools: Kean University, the school with no departments

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by postacademic on May 31, 2010
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"Schere" by Horst Frank (Creative Commons license)

You read the headline right: Kean University in New Jersey has a plan to cut 38 departments, consolidating them into 18 schools headed by “executive directors” who would replace typical chairs.  And Kean is no podunk university, being the 3rd largest public univsersity in New Jersey with an enrollment of 15,000 or so.  The plan to dispense with any sense of a conventional academic structure was done to save the school around $2 million, although the entire budget shortfall Kean is facing is $17.7 million, according to Inside Higher Ed.  IHE reports that the plan could go into effect by July, although claims that it will take two years to phase in the changes.

The drastic response was apparently conceived of by the school president and OK’d by the University Senate without input from the faculty at-large.  Faculty critics who dispute the Kean admin’s numbers argue that costs could even go up by replacing dept chairs with another level of bureaucracy with directors.  Per Inside Higher Ed:

“This new structure is adding an entirely new layer of administrators that never used to exist,” said James Castiglione, who teaches physics at Kean and is president of the Kean Federation of Teachers.

The union, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers, will challenge the plan on several grounds, Castiglione said. Most notably, union officials fear one of the plan’s chief goals is to convert department chairs into executive managers, who will then be removed from the bargaining unit, even though they’ll still carry some teaching duties.

More below the fold…


Follow-Ups (Yes, with another Zizek/SNL update)

Hope you are all enjoying your Memorial Day weekends!  We just wanted to follow up on a few stories we’ve covered here on the blog.

"UC logo" (Public Domain)

UC Budget Crisis: Earlier this month, we wrote about how the Governator was refusing to sign a state budget that did not include substantially more robust funding to the UCs, the Cal States, and community colleges, to the tune of replenishing $848 million of the $1.7 billion taken out the higher education systems.  The go-to blog on issues related to the UC budget crisis, Remaking the University, offers a skeptical take on Gov. Ahnold’s talk about funding increases to higher ed.  In particular, Michael Meranze points out that the tuition hikes for 2010-11 are still in place.

While we’re not exactly sure what’s happening on that front, the breaking news on the budget front from the UC–surprise, surprise–is all about further cuts and not about refilled coffers.  The latest involves a streamlining of the UC system to maximize efficiencies by centralizing certain operations like payroll and purchasing (that’s my best approximation of admin speak), rather than letting each UC campus do its own thing.  The LA Times has decided it likes this move, although Remaking the University that the news only obscures the fact that the “UC’s state funding remains destructively low”.

Middlesex U Philosophy: A lot has happened since we covered the impending shuttering of the Middlesex U Philosophy department.  Four Middlesex Philosophy students and three faculty members were suspended by the university for participating in “occupation” events.  This action has triggered a response from intellectuals from Europe and the U.S.–with Etienne Balibar first into the breach–rallying in support of their colleagues and decrying the decision of the Middlesex admin.  The suspensions have only intensified efforts to defend the Philosophy dept, leading to another set of protests this past Thursday.  For more info, check out the Save Middlesex Philosophy blog.

"Slavoj Zizek" by Mariusz Kubik (Creative Commons license)

The Slavoj Zizek/SNL Campaign: This wouldn’t be an end of the week follow up without an update on the Zizek/SNL Facebook campaign.  The member roll of the Facebook fanpage has swelled to 4,760 and the effort has yielded write-ups in Inside Higher Ed and even Huffington Post.  All the attention has swept up the campaign’s originator, Alexander Hanna, who sent an email to the Facebook fans urging them to spread the word to likeminded folks and  “actually make this happen”–so we’re doing out part!  Don’t know if 4,760 viewers would exactly constitute a ratings bonanza for SNL, since it took at least (more than?) 500,000 fans to get Betty White on SNL–though, hey, 4,760 fans is nothing to sneeze at, especially when the Post Academic Facebook fanpage has been stuck on 58 members for a while now!  Maybe a reality check is in order, but 4,760 fans could probably get Zizek on Carson Daly or something?

And get this: the man himself is speaking at UCI this coming Friday, June 4.  What if we got a little hat with a “Press” tag stuck in the band and asked Zizek whether he knows about the campaign?  That might make for a more memorable academic celeb sighting than the Homi Bhabha fiasco.

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