Post Academic


Academia and the “Creative Crisis”

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionJust how creative are scholars of the humanities, and how has that affected their job situation? Go into any literature department, and you’ll notice a big split between the students of literature and the students of creative writing. Based on my own experience (and please leave a note if yours was different), the two groups rarely interacted.

Since when was there supposed to be such a sharp split between the creative and the scholarly? Taking another step back, since when was there supposed to be such a big split between the research-oriented and the creation-oriented? And what about the sciences and the humanities?

This split may be hurting scholarly output, as well as students. A recent Newsweek series declares that the United States is in “creative crisis.” Whether or not you believe that is true, the article makes a crucial point:

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

There’s no turf war regarding creativity. Yet the perception that creativity belongs to the arts may be stunting the growth of problem-solving skills. There’s no shortage of academics, pundits, journalists and bloggers (yours truly included) who can synthesize information (such as what’s in the Newsweek article), but are we any good at solving problems and implementing solutions?

More after the jump! Swedish engraving of three creative women from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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How Pending Legislation Can Affect Colleges

Posted in The Education Industry by doctoreclair on July 26, 2010
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My rough impression is that education in the United States has not been much of a political priority for the last few decades. Much of the little debate that does take place is dictated by the libertarians, who have been more active than the left on this issue. It seems that the most powerful new idea brought to these debates has been, lamentably enough, the privatization of education. To call the right’s agenda privatization is only part of the story, though, since capitalism has been accompanied by its usual paradoxical bedfellow, statism. (In his histories of the rise of capitalism, Perry Anderson keeps coming back to the point that the growth of capital markets depended on the extension of state authority, rather than on democratization. Recent history shows that this process is ongoing, our current weird twins being national testing and charter schools.)

The latest chapter in this history has been the education initiatives currently before Congress. I’ll take a quick look at these, and consider possible implications for higher education.

Congress is dealing with the problem that state budget declines will cause between 100,000 and 300,000 teachers to lose their jobs this year. A first attempt to provide funding, known as “Edujobs,” failed after Republicans and even some Democrats have denounced the proposed funding as “bailout.” (Consider the baffling logic of this attack: If state governments announced that they were having trouble paying for some of the unfunded Homeland Security mandates, and Congress stepped up to fund those mandates, would anyone have dared to call it a bailout?)
More after the jump!
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Treating Teachers Well, Part 2: The Slacker Professor Straw Man Problem

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo why aren’t teachers treated well? The ghosts of the Slacker Professor and the Slacker Teacher have a little something to do with it. These straw men have been used as an excuse to make cuts in public education and slice and dice good teachers for far too long. Even if charter schools succeed and education (higher ed or otherwise) is privatized, the employees are still going to be there, and they still deserve to be treated well. Yet it seems that teachers are treated like crap and excessively punished for the few slackers in their ranks.

As I’ve written about before, treating teachers badly, slashing their budgets, and busting their unions is a continuation of the weird impulse to destroy a whole system to root out a few slackers. So you don’t like the fact that there’s a bad teacher who has been relegated to the “rubber room” and is still getting paid. C’mon. Haven’t you worked with someone who did a bad job but who was relegated to the hamster-world equivalent of a “rubber room” because the company was afraid of getting sued?

The simple fact of the matter is that, once you hire someone, whether you are union or not, it is difficult to fire them, and you better have a bloody good reason to fire them. It’s the law, and unions won’t make that go away. Yet politicians and parents seem to lash out at teachers when they don’t realize the exact same thing is happening in their own workplaces.

More after the jump! Image from the Bundesarchiv on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license. (more…)

Treating Teachers Well, Part 1: Why You Should Respect Teachers

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA recent post by Teresa Ghilarducci over at Brainstorm deserves your attention because it shows how teachers are treated differently from other employees:

Let’s say you’re advising a business with varying quality and you want to improve performance. Would you ridicule the workers publicly; cut their pay and benefits; say they are the sole cause of the problem, and that you want brighter younger replacements who will work overtime and weekends? No new CEO would adopt this as a strategy for success. Attacking your workforce is not an effective way to improve quality, produce a better product, and attract top talent — a bright young replacement would notice the disrespect.

So why do people think attacking teachers is a route to education reform?

Ghilarducci goes into discussing charter schools and unions, but I’ll chime in with my own Hamster World view. Whether employees are unionized or not, you still have to treat them with respect. Busting the union does not let you off the hook.

In the Hamster World, I’ve been treated rather well. I’ve been thanked when I did a good job. In some cases, I even received a bonus, or at least some nice free meals. Nothing fancy, nothing Goldman Sachs worthy, but something that made clear I was appreciated as an employee and my work contributed to the company’s success.

Most employees just want a little respect on top of their paycheck. Most teachers do not get respect, or even decent, regular performance evaluations that let them know they’re doing a good job. Ghilarducci makes it clear–if you don’t treat employees well and fairly, they will leave.
More after the jump! Image of a teacher at work from 1917, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
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Broke-Ass Schools: University of Maine Follow-Up

Looks like the University of Maine will follow through on many of its proposed budget cuts. The school plans to suspend the following majors: German, Latin, theatre and women’s studies.

On the bright side, French and Spanish will not be suspended. Someone must have come to their senses on that one … Maine does border Canada. Of course, if liberal arts education vanishes, people might forget that important fact.

Another interesting note in the announcement:

Hiring lecturers in liberal arts disciplines of high student interest, with the understanding that those professors will be exemplary educators free from research expectations who will also teach in the Honors College …

So, “lecturers in the liberal arts.” No boost in tenure-track faculty, eh?

Kennedy Announces UMaine Academic Reorganization [University of Maine]

UMaine president approves cuts, revenue plan to close $25 million gap [Bangor Daily News]

Rage Against the Professor

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on April 14, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe report on professor salaries made it to the Huffington Post, and this information generated some wild speculation on what professors make and what it is they actually do. Some of the comments reflected a streak of anger toward professors in general and could be summed up as “quit yer bitching.” The comments swiftly turned into a debate over whether or not professors were valuable, period:

“I had drunks for professors, BORING professors who read out of the book, MEAN professors, you name it. And they all had tenure.”*

“These professors have a bloated sense of entitlement. At least they got an average increase!”

“Professors are no doubt due a decent salary – but the fact that they get the salary they do while being GROSSLY under worked is driving the cost through the roof.”

“Educators love to site the “prep time” and all the “work” that happens outside the actual teaching in a classroom. Perhaps these people that thrive on education should spend some time educating themselves about the real world.”

More after the jump! Image from Wikimedia Commons, US Department of Agriculture, public domain.
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Broke-Ass Schools: Berkeley Fights the Bloat

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on April 13, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen humans feel bloated, they take a few pills to fit in their pants. When universities feel bloated, they pay $3 million smackers to a consulting firm to diagnose the problem and recommend solutions.

Consulting firm Bain & Company has evaluated the University of California Berkeley and discovered the real source of its financial troubles—managerial bloat. According to the San Francisco Chronicle,

The biggest [problem], say the consultants, is too many managers. The human resources department alone has one manager per 63 employees, compared with an average of one per 127 employees across other universities.

However, will the university be willing to lay off from among their own? Or will they pass the cuts on down the line? Bain & Company also made suggestions that involve eliminating grad student housing and child care services. I have a sinking feeling that the university might spend $3 million more figuring out how to implement these suggestions.

UC Berkeley bloated, wasteful, consultants say SF Gate
Full Report on UC Berkeley Managerial Bloat

Tame the Teaching Workload First

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhen pondering an escape from the ivory tower, you probably think about becoming a lecturer or a classroom teacher. This reaction is natural since teaching is a valuable, concrete skill. You might even be able to make good part-time money at it if you get a job teaching the SAT or the LSAT.

But don’t make the leap just yet, especially if you want to leave academia because you had trouble managing your classroom time. Kerry Ann Rockquemore describes the impact of the “Teaching Trap” over at insidehighered.com, and it’s clear that teaching is one of the classic tasks that expands to fill the time available.

If you thought teaching took up too much time when you were in academia, a change of scenery won’t help you. Whether you’re teaching the SAT at Kaplan or teaching a class at a public high school, teaching will continue to take up all of your time unless you improve your time management skills. Visit my tips on how to tame your paperwork, and try these four tips, all after the jump:
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Broke-Ass Schools: So Goes the UC, So Goes the Nation?

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by Caroline Roberts on March 24, 2010
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The University of California has released suggestions for easing its budget crisis. Some of the suggestions seem genuinely reasonable, but they raise legitimate questions. Here’s a list of the suggestions, followed by Post Academic comments:

1. Establishing three-year degrees: Many students graduate in three years to save money, so the university is changing to fit student habits. However, the three-year plan all depends on the major. For example, since engineers are so vital to everyone’s safety, perhaps they should stay in a little longer.

2. More online courses: Uh, since when did the UC become the University of Phoenix? Then again, other states, such as Massachusetts, have incorporated more online courses. They should probably be an option for juniors and seniors, though, as students need to develop the discipline to see online courses through. Someone who has just entered college and who isn’t being monitored by parents and teachers is more likely to blow off a course.

3. More out-of-state students: This one seems inevitable. But what about all the students from California who are applying to UCs?

4. Making Berkeley and UCLA more expensive: What are the other schools, chopped liver? Option No. 3 would be preferable to this, as it would punish students who got into Berkeley or UCLA and happened to live nearby. They shouldn’t have to go a long distance and pay the dorm fees if they don’t want to.

What suggestions would you offer? What is the UC overlooking, and is there anything that other systems can learn from these choices?

UC panel proposes three-year bachelor’s degrees, other big changes [Los Angeles Times]

Broke-Ass Schools Round-Up: Minnesota, UC Davis, Alabama in General

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools by postacademic on March 17, 2010
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Today brought a flood of nasty financial news for schools. Here’s a quick look at who’s in trouble now:

–The University of Minnesota is setting a round of pay cuts for everyone. Yes, everyone, even the higher-ups: “Top administrators, who would have had to take six furlough days, would now receive a 2.3 percent pay decrease.” Although that isn’t much of a decrease when you think about it, at least some of the cuts are coming from the top, and you don’t hear about administrators taking on cuts every day. [Minnesota Daily via HuffPo]

–UC Davis is working to eliminate employee “redundancy” by decentralizing jobs so that one staff member services multiple departments. And here’s the twist: the school’s financial aid office has been cut by 17 percent. [Inside Higher Ed]

–Perhaps the ugliest of all: More parents are encouraged to start investing in prepaid tuition plans or 529 plans. Now some of these parents might get burned. Thanks to the stock market’s tanking, Alabama’s fund is down 45 percent … meaning that when parents who have paid into the fund and followed the rules are ready to send their kids to college, Alabama might not be able to cover it. [Birmingham News via Inside Higher Ed]

As always, although this information seems isolated to undergrads, this affects the overall funding prospects for grad students and the future job prospects of academics.

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