Post Academic

The Decline of Film Criticism: A Glimpse of the Future for Academia?

Posted in Housekeeping,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on June 14, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionFilm critics have been laid off in droves as newspapers change their structure. Understandably, the critics who have been laid off aren’t happy about it, and the debate regarding the role of the film critic sounds similar to the debate regarding the role of the academic, especially in the humanities.

In the latest Vanity Fair, James Wolcott describes the responses of critics scorned, and one in particular surprised me. On a panel, Richard Schickel from Time magazine said, “I don’t honestly know the function of reviewing anything.”

I don’t know Mr. Schickel’s work. He may be a brilliant writer, but those who want to keep their jobs ought to be able to justify what they do. If he can’t think of a function for reviewing anything, then why is he a reviewer?

Perhaps if film critics could better justify what they do, more of them would still have work. I can think of many ways film critics do the public a service. For starters, they save us money by telling us if a movie is worth watching or worth renting. They are also cultural historians. Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps” is, in my opinion, a work of history as much as a work of film criticism. Why didn’t Schickel try to make a better worded, more sophisticated version of this argument?

Wolcott hat-tips Roger Ebert because he was able to adapt, and now he has created a niche for Twitter film criticism. It’s proof that you can’t make your job last solely by complaining and navel-gazing. You must be able to justify what you do and be willing to adapt. After all, Ebert hasn’t changed what he’s done for a living. He certainly hasn’t sold out. He’s just finding new ways to reach new audiences.

A manual film projector with a mini-film and box. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

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?

Challenges for Beginning Scholars: Those Summer Blues

Posted in Housekeeping by doctoreclair on June 8, 2010

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn holiday conversations about my work as a tenure-track professor, my family and nonacademic friends love to run a tired old witticism by me: “What are the three best reasons to be a teacher?” I’ve heard the answer many times before, but I play along. “June, July, and August,” they say.

In the case of higher education, though, a more accurate reply might be “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” if you’ve been fortunate enough to have a Tuesday/Thursday teaching schedule. Summer, by contrast, isn’t the glorious season of freedom that my family and friends imagine. My deliberately confusing allusions to ongoing publication and service projects may keep those family members satisfied that I have real work to do, but their jokes strike a nerve because they make me recognize that I may not, in fact, have much of a summer plan. Indeed, I’ve found that summers have been exceptionally full of periods of anxiety and depression.

More from Dr. E. Clair after the jump! Image of summer sangria by Paul Irish from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The First Hundred Days of Post Academic

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on June 7, 2010
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Post Academic is marking our first hundred days with a self-congratulatory commemorative post, which mostly involves us delving into teary-eyed reminiscences and recapping some of our favorite and most popular items.  So please indulge us a little bit today, since it’s kind of a milestone for us–we’ve posted every single day and, more often than not, the both of us!  Of course, we’d like to thank anyone who has happened upon the blog for helping us get this far, whether you’re a loyal repeat customer or Facebook fan or random browser.  Hat tips, too, to everyone who has linked to Post Academic, from Twitter followers to kindred blogs to Inside Higher Ed to even MLA higher-ups.

Caroline Says…When Arnold and I started this blog 100 days ago, I was worried most of the content would be bleak. News of the crappiest job market ever, underpaid adjuncts, and rude search committees made me wonder what went wrong with the academic system.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the academy as a whole is becoming more pragmatic, even considering altering the dissertation process. The academy has a stodgy rep in the Hamster World, but the truth is that the economy has prompted professors, grad students and undergraduates to ask tough questions and search for answers. We’re learning that you can get a PhD or an MA and do something other than teaching, we’re proving that there is value in a liberal arts education and we’re learning how to take charge of our careers. In the long run, this experience may reinvigorate the academy.

Then again, I’m just a Hamster talking. So, whenever the ivory tower gets you down, remember that James Franco is hanging out in there … somewhere.

Arnold Says…Without Caroline taking the initiative to set up Post Academic after we sent a few daydreaming emails about starting a blog, there wouldn’t have been a Day 1, much less a Day 100.  Beyond being a forum that has enabled us to write and a platform to test out our mad-scientist online publishing schemes, Post Academic has been a great experience for us as an opportunity to think about and work through the obstacles–mental and structural–of being an academic, whether you’re fully entrenched in academia, marginally attached to it, or looking for a way out.  The blog has given us a chance to be practical, silly, wistful, mad, and really mad.  It has also given us a chance to be topical and to participate in professional discussions that we never had before.

Lest I get too mushy going down memory land, here’s a list of milestones and faves over the first hundred days:

1st post: “Raising Funds for the Post Academic Life”

1st post that made us realize people were reading the thing: “5 Annoying Personalities You Will Meet in Grad School Programs, and How to Cope with Them”

Most popular post: “Interview with Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School

Most cathartic post (for Arnold, at least): “Academia, I wish I knew how to quit you!”

The post that helped me figure out that my predicament is just tiny, tiny part of the larger scheme of crappiness: “Academic job salaries: ‘Worst Salary Year’ meets ‘Worst. Job Market. Ever.'”

My favorite piece of practical advice: “Tips to Squelch Ivory Tower and Grad School Gossip”–hey, the principles apply outside of academia too!

This retrospective is also an opportunity to take stock in what the blog is doing and to ask you, our fabulous readers, what you’d like to see on Post Academic.  Drop us a line at our email address (see the right column) or offer your suggestions in the comments section.  It would be great to know who’s visiting the site as well as what we can do to give you more reasons to read and us more reasons to write!  Thanks!

Last week on Post Academic (5/30-6/5)

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on June 6, 2010
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At the end/beginning of the week, we like to point out some of the posts that have either cycled off the front page of lost in the shuffle from the week just ended on Post Academic.  Besides the return of Broke-Ass Schools and the continuation of our Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype film series, the last week is pretty easy to recap: resumes and CVs.  You can start with Caroline’s first post musing on resume objectives and work your away forward, or end with Arnold’s CV vs. resume grudge match comparing the two forms and go backwards.

Or if you’re sick of listening to us on the topic, just check out the video above by web jokester Liz Thompson, who made a YouTube on “How to Write a Resume!”.  It’s part of a series of “How-to” videos by Thompson, and it captures the silliness of resume writing pretty well.

And sorry, no Zizek-SNL update this week, mostly because Arnold didn’t get to attend the UCI talk and ask him if he knew about the campaign.  For those of you counting at home, the Facebook fan site seems to have stalled out at 5,358 members, thought that’s still a pretty impressive number.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

Last week on Post Academic (5/23-5/29)

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on May 30, 2010

At the end of one week and the beginning of another, we catch our collective breath on the blog and gather up links to some of the posts that have either cycled off the home page or might have been lost in the shuffle.  Enjoy the rest of your long weekend, and thanks for reading!

* Caroline covered last week’s New Yorker cover, which, understandably, may have hit too close (to the Post Academic parents’) home for some of us.  Arnold wrote up a Post Academic take on The New Yorker‘s “Your New College Graduate: A Parent’s Guide” questionnaire between the covers–and vote in our poll on how best to care and feed your Ph.D.!

* Caroline addresses issues of job security–or more accurately, job insecurity–for hamster-wheeling academics and hamster worlders alike.

* Caroline discusses how teachers should be treated here and here, while Arnold delves into how we feel about the way we’re treated, especially adjuncts.  A lot of this makes Arnold go Hulk!

Last week on Post Academic (5/16-5/22)–With Zizek/SNL update!

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on May 23, 2010
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First things first: The Zizek SNL petition on Facebook is gaining steam–well, as much as these things do.  Since we posted on it Friday, the member count has gone up from 967 to 1,415, though I can’t say we should take credit for the spike.  In the meantime, we found an imagined monologue for a Zizek appearance in the comments section of Gerry Canavan’s blog.  And if we really are going to daydream about this thing the right way, maybe a more intellectually engaging musical performer than Britney Spears (which was an earlier choice on the FB fanpage; now it’s Laibach) could be paired with the force-of-nature Slovenian critical theorist.  We (or, at least, Arnold) vote for M.I.A., who would actually be a really current get and who would be willing to bring it with some pomo and poco to match wits with Zizek.

If you’ve got a better idea for musical guest to go along with Zizek and/or have a really strong imagination, offer your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below!

"MIA at Bonnaroo 2008" by Jack234 (Creative Commons license)

"Slavoj Zizek" by Pablo Secca (Creative Commons license)

Host Slavoj Zizek + musical guest M.I.A. = Best hypothetical theory geek Saturday Night Live ever?

If you hadn’t noticed, the rest of the week on Post Academic was also pretty rousing, touching on hot-button issues like the adjunct crisis and the Arizona Ethnic Studies Ban. We also wondered whether a little time off from academia wouldn’t be such a bad idea for aspiring Ph.D.s and would-be tenure-trackers.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your weekends!

Follow-Ups, from A(naconda) to Z(izek)

Let’s follow up on some of the recent posts we’ve put up.  You’ll have to keep reading to understand why we have images of an anaconda and Slavoj Zizek here.  What’s odder is that the anaconda is probably more directly relevant to the follow-up than Zizek is!

"Green Anaconda" by Stevenj (Creative Commons license)

Alternative Careers in (Post)Gradland: Last week, we mentioned that the great blog Gradland had put up some very illuminating posts on non-tenure track careers for academics, discussing adjuncting and high school teaching.  Well, Gradland is back with some more options in the movie biz and the publishing industry.  The former is where Anaconda comes in, cause Gradland’s subject “Alice” was hired to do research for the J-Lo/Ice Cube/Jon Voight vehicle.

Freelance Writing Tips from the Legends: In last week’s Footnotes, we mentioned a handy advice piece for freelance critic types posted on Geeta Dayal’s blog — which I apparently forgot to link!  This week, PopMatters–gotta put in a plug for my home team!–began a series of articles asking renowned music writers and editors to offer their best tips to aspiring and/or struggling freelancers.  Hey, anything a hall-of-famer like Robert Christgau has to offer is something I’d be listening to!

"Slavoj Zizek" by Pablo Secca (Creative Commons license)

Broke-Ass Update on Middlesex University: We covered the cause célèbre that the Middlesex U Philosophy department in the UK has become for scholars worldwide.  This thoughtful column written by John Protevi for Inside Higher Ed explores what might be the ramifications of the downsizing of Middlesex U Philosophy for programs and depts Stateside.

…with a little bonus Zizek!: So how does Slavoj Zizek come into play here and why?  Remember that he’s one of the academic superstars cosigning a letter of support for Middlesex U Philosophy?  That answers how and here’s the why: À la the Betty White campaign, there’s a Facebook fan page petitioning Zizek to host SNL!  Though not only does it (obviously!) pale in size to the B. White petition, but, at 967 members, it’s also behind around 13-to-1 to the Save Middlesex U Philosophy fanpage.

Oops! Technical difficulties…

Posted in Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on May 18, 2010
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Sorry to the Post Academic subscribers who received a message that included a post titled “Myths about Ethnic Studies”, as well as anyone who might’ve been on the front page for a few seconds at around 11:20 west coast time!  I pressed the “Publish” button instead of the “Save Draft” button on accident for the first time ever, so there’s something floating out there with some random notes about “colorblind ideology” and “exnomination.”  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to make good on the post soon, so please come back later this week for our take on the Stupid Arizona Ethnic Studies Ban and the faulty myths about what Ethnic Studies is that it depends on.  You can read the stupid official document here, if you want to come prepared to the discussion…

Taking Time Off Before Grad School: Part One, the Theory

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTenured Radical champions the notion that undergrads should take some time off before entering a grad program. They’ll gain focus and experience, and maybe they’ll find a career so swell they won’t need grad school:

Regardless of whether you like this or not, or whether it seems fair, it is simply a fact that actual graduate school admissions committees at select schools will regard your application more favorably if you take a significant amount of time off. Two to five years, I would say. Want to do labor history? Be an organizer; spend one of those years as a day laborer or a factory worker. An anthropologist? Leave the country and learn a language. Learn two. Cultural studies? Try an advertising agency or tending bar on the Lower East Side of New York.

This makes perfect sense. Life experience can add dimension to a dissertation, and students will professionalize themselves in ways that will help them on the market. But I almost wish that Tenured Radical just uttered the Pannapacker Doctrine: “Just Don’t Go.”

Saying “just don’t go” sounds extreme, and it is, but at least it admits there’s a problem with the grad school system in general.

Maybe the real message is that people shouldn’t go to grad school until the big problems–namely the lack of jobs and the unwillingness of the program to help current students with back-up plans–are solved. If that’s the case, then people are going to need to take a whole lot more than two to three years off.

So, tomorrow … why didn’t I wait a few years to go to grad school?

Student teachers practice teaching kindergarten at the Toronto Normal School, Canada, 1898. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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