Wednesday, 11 August 2004


may be posted here

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Wednesday, 26 May 2004


I plan to take this site down two weeks from today (i.e., Wednesday, 9 June).

UPDATE (June 4):

I have received many requests to keep the blog up, or at least to allow mirroring. I haven't yet decided what to do.

In any case, the site should eventually be archived at the Internet Archive. I requested a crawl over two months ago and I know the Alexa crawler has since visited my site. The results do not yet turn up, but apparently this can take several months.

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Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Signing Off

Gentle Readers,

A few months ago, I made a vow to myself that this would be my last semester as an invisible adjunct. Since I’ve failed to secure a full-time position in my final attempt at the academic job market, what this means, of course, is that I made a vow to leave the academy. Six more weeks of teaching, and I head for the nearest exit.

Though I must inevitably feel a sense of loss and sadness, it’s thanks to this blog and its readers that I don’t feel the kind of life-twisting bitterness that I might otherwise have experienced. I’ll take with me, among other things, a knowledge of XHTML (which I never thought I could learn!), an undiminished passion for the Scottish Enlightenment, and a heightened sense of life’s possibilities.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to give up the blog.

I do so with both a good deal of reluctance and a certain sense of relief. Writing blog entries and reading and responding to comments has become such an integral part of my regular routine that it’s very difficult to walk away. For the next few weeks, at least, I’m sure I won’t know what to do with myself (novel-reading? I just finished rereading all six of them). But this weblog has always been a labour of love, and lately I find that my heart is no longer in it. I think the time has come to focus my energies elsewhere. Anyway, I guess I’ve pretty much said most of things that I wanted to say, and then some.

I’ve also received more support than I ever could have imagined or expected. Indeed, the response to the blog has been, quite simply, overwhelming. Since I can’t even begin to express what this has meant to me as I've struggled over the past year or so to make sense of my experience in the academy, I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll just take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who participated in the transformation of what began as “yet another me-zine” into something like an online community. To everyone who has read, linked, commented, and emailed: I thank you.

Yours sincerely,


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Monday, 22 March 2004

History Papers

Writing is unnatural. As is most of what we do, which unnaturalness is only natural.*

Timothy Burke has a nice entry on some of the problems and challenges commonly encountered in students' history essays. If you've ever graded student papers in any discipline whatsover, you'll surely recognize some of the "smaller but important stylistic errors and misfires" that Burke enumerates here, though you may use slightly different descriptors (e.g., what Burke calls endless unbroken paragraphs, I term the runaway paragraph -- as in, for pity's sake, rein it in and assert some authorial control). I suspect the choice of tenses problem is, if not peculiar to, then particularly significant for history papers.

It reminds me that writing history essays is unnatural: that is, an impressively complex art and craft that takes practice, and that requires guidelines. By extension, the teaching of the writing of history essays must be likewise unnatural (which is to say, etcetera, etcetera).

*Adam Ferguson on the state of nature:

We speak of art as distinguished from nature; but art itself is natural to man. He is in some measure the artificer of his own frame, as well as his fortune, and is destined, from the first age of his being, to invent and contrive...
...If we are asked therefore, Where is the state of nature to be found? we may answer, It is here; and it matters not whether we are understood to speak in the island of Great Britain, at the Cape of Good Hope, or the Straits of Magellan.

-- An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), I.i

Take that, Rousseau! (I'm only sort of joking).

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Nice Work!

Congratulations to Rana! She's been offered an internship at the Smithsonian.

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Friday, 19 March 2004

Mansfield Park Poll

Continuing with the Austen reread theme (because this academic/adjunct stuff is bringing me down):

As an RC (though admittedly a sadly lapsed one), I've always been more than a little bit weirded out by the marriage of Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. Hello? Not only were they first cousins, but they were raised in the same home, where they called each other brother and sister. Perhaps an impediment as far as the fourth degree was a tad harsh, but I must say I think the Church was onto something with those consanguinity laws.*

It's no use wishing for another ending, of course, and in lit. crit. terms, I'm sure such reification of fictional constructs must be deemed hopelessly naive. Nevertheless. What if Fanny had relented and taken Henry Crawford on board, thus clearing the way for a union between Edmund and Mary? Wouldn't both of our moral exemplars have been better off marrying outside the immediate family?

The not so subtextual subtext to this poll: is Fanny Price an appalling little milksop, or the fit and proper center of a properly centered moral universe? (or, to put it another way: is Mary Crawford a serpent in the garden, an actual force for positive evil, or just a slightly racier version of Elizabeth Bennett: EB on steroids, say?)

*Legal beagle question of the day: What kind of civil laws now take the place of the canon law in the area of consanguinity? I know there must be laws, I would assume they would vary from state to state. Not something I've ever really thought of before -- I suppose because, well, it's never occurred to me to want to marry one of my first cousins. (Note to singleton blogreaders: I do have a lot of first and second cousins, of both male and female persuasion, and some of them are still up for grabs. If you're over 21, have never been convicted of a felony, and are willing to relocate to Canada, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do**).

**You know I'm only joking, right?

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Professor Plum, in the Library, with the Candlestick

Well, we don't disagree too strongly, other than perhaps you gotta stop calling people 'Professor'-- I feel like a murder suspect in 'Clue.'

-- Timothy Burke to Matthew Yglesias, comments to "We All Agree!"

It's been years since I've played Clue. I used to love that game.

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"Micromanagement at its Worst"

The sponsor [Republican Shawn Mitchell] of a bill aimed at protecting the rights of conservative students on college campuses said today he would shelve the bill and allow state colleges and universities to prove that they are committed to protecting political diversity.

-- "'Academic Bill of Rights' yanked before vote"

The Denver Post reports that Rep. Mark Larson, a Republican, objected to the bill as "'micromanagement at its worst,'" and "said he had lined up enough votes to pass an amendment gutting it." Good for Larson for upholding the principle of limited government that Republicans are supposed to defend.

As proof of their commitment to "political diversity," the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Metropolitan State College and the University of Northern Colorado have

agreed to make sure their grievance procedures address political diversity and that students know they can file a grievance against a professor who has discriminated against them because of their views.

Grievances, eh? Since the most common form of discrimination practiced by professors is that of discrimination on the basis of the quality of students' work, and since the most likely form of evidence to be cited in a grievance would be the grade received in a course, how might this play out in the actual world? Here's one scenario: Angry [lefty/liberal/conservative] undergraduate receives a C, and then files a grievance against the offending [lefty/liberal/conservative] professor, citing viewpoint discrimination. As parents threaten legal action, and case gets taken up by local media, university administrators persuade/cajole/coerce the professor to raise the grade.

Can anyone doubt that such grievance procedures would take the logic of the consumer satisfaction survey student evaluation to a new level, exerting still more pressure to further inflate the grades? Who needs the hassle? I'd like to propose a new legislative amendment designed to save time, trouble and heartache (not to mention paperwork and lawyer's fees) all around: Every student who expresses a view has the right to an A; and any grade lower than an A is not only prima facie evidence of discrimination but is also by definition a violation of this constitutionally protected right.

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Saturday, 13 March 2004

Fly Away with You

Spread your tiny wings and fly away,
And take the snow back with you
Where it came from on that day.
The one I love forever is untrue,
And if I could you know that I would
Fly away with you.

-- "Snowbird," Written by Gene MacLellan, Immortalized by Anne Murray

Does it get any cheesier? My sisters and I once read an interview with Anne Murray (in a Canadian tv guide, maybe) in which she emphasized her down-to-earth quality by insisting, "I'm not the glamour puss that you see when I'm on the road." Well, I can't remember exactly how she said it, but she did say "glamour puss." Glamour puss? Anne Murray? We found this highly amusing.

Off to Florida to visit a colony of snowbirds, in the midst of which can be found my parents. Since area restaurants cater for these seasonal migrants, I may be able to order vinegar with my fries.* Blogging will resume next weekend.

*Why don't Americans put vinegar on their french fries? This is a serious question.

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Casting Call

He had very early an inclination to intemperance, which he totally subdued in his travels; but when he became a courtier, he unhappily addicted himself to dissolute and vitious company, by which his principles were corrupted and his manners depraved. He lost all sense of religious restraint; and, finding it not convenient to admit the authority of laws which he was resolved not to obey, sheltered his wickedness behind infidelity.

-- Samuel Johnson, "The Life of Rochester"

Johnny Depp is filming The Libertine, in which he plays the lead role as the Earl of Rochester. Works for me.

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Conference Calls

1. Via Electrolite:

Michael Bérubé has an idea for a conference on the conference:

One of these days I want to put together an academic conference that addresses the phenomenon of academic conferences. It will be called 'The Longer Version,' and will be distinguished by three features: one, every paper will have a respondent who, instead of waiting for the paper to end, will simply snort, harrumph, and blurt 'I think not!' at random moments during the paper. Two, questioners will be required to begin all questions by saying, 'this is really more of a comment than a question-- I wonder if you could say more about X,' on the condition that X was either unmentioned in or tangential to the paper itself. (Questions must be at least three minutes long.) And three, every speaker will be required to answer these questions by saying, 'I actually address this question in the longer version of this paper,' regardless of whether there is a longer version or not. (If the conference proceedings are published, they will consist only of sections of papers that were cut for time during the actual conference.)

I'd like to condition for just one more requirement: for every paper delivered, there should be at least one questioner the substance of whose remarks amount to, 'That's all well and good, but why aren't we talking about my work?"

2. Via an anonymous reader:

Dr. Kevin Cramer, a member of the H-German discussion board, calls for "more stringent vetting of conference announcements" after "a rather unsettling episode":

In November of last year I responded to a call for conference papers under the rubric of 'Symposium on the Psychological Interpretation of War,' sponsored by the Library of Social Science in New York (Dr. Richard Koenigsberg, Director). As this invitation appeared on my professional list-serve, I had no reason to question the bona fides of this organization (their website was also innocuous). The other participants (around 20 total, in two sessions), from multiple disciplines and major universities and institutions here and abroad, also learned of this conference through their professional list-serves and other networks. The conference took place last week.

The Library of Social Science, it turned out, was Dr. Koenigsberg's
apartment living room in a run down corner of Elmhurst, Queens. The
'Library', it seems, was not much more than a vanity project and
sometime vendor of academic books at various professional organization
conferences around the country. Incidentally, a $150.00 registration fee
was charged. There were no stipends for travel or accommodations and no
meals were provided (other than candy, fruit, and bottled water.) Dr.
Koenigsberg's doctorate is, I surmised, in psychology or psychoanalysis
but, in his own words, 'he has been studying Hitler for 30 years.'

"Caveat emptor," says Cramer. Indeed. The dead giveaway here was of course the candy. Word to the wise: if you don't see, in the words of Alex Pang, that "peculiar academic reception food group" known as the chunk o' cheddar on a toothpick, you should begin to suspect it's not really an academic conference.

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Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Three Wives and Three Hundred Scholarly Articles (The Good Life)

Universalizing from his own experience -- "a wonderful life" that has allowed him to publish, teach, marry, have children, travel, and attend the theatre, but that has apparently not done much to help him develop his capacities for sympathetic imagination -- David Lester purports to be " those who find the academic life to be so hard and so stressful." Such malcontents, he suggests, might "have benefited from spending eight hours down a coal mine in their adolescence." Worth reading as a remarkable instance of self-absorption and self-promotion, and especially noteworthy for the boast that he has "never had a federal grant" for his research (take that, you academic welfare bums!). The Little Professor has more.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2004

New and Improved Austen Poll

Because I left out Colonel Brandon in the one just below.

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Poll: Your Favourite Austen Hero

These characters aren't really heroes, are they? (which I think is precisely Austen's point). But for the purposes of the poll, "hero" will do, though perhaps I should have said "your favourite male protagonist in an Austen novel," or "your favourite male character who marries an Austen heroine."

Since this polling software only allows for five possible responses, I left out Edward Ferrars on the -- admittedly arbitrary and possibly mistaken -- assumption that nobody would choose such a dull and forgettable character. If you want to register a vote for Mr Ferrars, you'll have to 'fess up in the comments section.

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How Repulsive was Mr. Collins?

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

-- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

I'm on a Jane Austen reread streak. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to take up the question of how repulsive was Mr Collins?, or rather, the question of Mr Collins was repulsive how? I don't really have the answer, just a couple of related questions.

Continue reading "How Repulsive was Mr. Collins?"
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Monday, 8 March 2004

Death of Okin

Harry Brighouse reports that Susan Moller Okin died last week. This is very sad, a real loss to her profession.

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Sunday, 7 March 2004

What does Chun Mean?

That question has been raised more than once in the comments at this weblog. The Little Professor now has the answer (for background, see Chun).

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The Gap between Civil Society and Academia

In the comments to "Fighting Words from Fish," Timothy Burke makes an observation that's worth putting upfront:

At this juncture in history, the problem is not state legislatures, insensitive to academic realities as they may be. It's the gulf between civil society and academic culture, between the public sphere and intellectual labor, between the people and the professors. Fish doesn't take that gap seriously at all, and therefore doesn't see how urgent the need to renew a covenant with American society is, how much we have to explain again, with fresh eyes and confident voice, why higher education matters, why the liberal arts makes our citizens stronger, why our economic future is tied into critical thought. That will take humility, it will take acknowledging where we fall short, where we have settled for the dull compulsions of social inevitability, where we have come to doubt ourselves, where we have become hopelessly inward turning. It will take a combination of mea culpas and unyielding challenges.

I wish *I* had said that. Luckily I have readers to articulate what I haven't yet figured out how to say.

I think Burke is exactly right about this. And I think Fish mistakes the symptoms for the underlying root cause. The social compact has broken down. Academics need to take seriously the urgency of the task of renewing (or recreating) that social compact.

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Debates over Unionization

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous has proposed the following topic for discussion:

As a full-time Lecturer with a Ph.D. at a campus of a massive regional state university with a very strong faculty union, I've recently taken quite an interest in debates over unionization.

The topic I'd be interested in seeing discussed here is whether, in their efforts to win job security for Lecturers and other so-called temporary faculty, unions should make a distinction between adjuncts with Ph.D.s and those without. My university system does not, and the unfortunate effect of its advances in
gaining job security for contingent faculty is that newly arrived Ph.D.s and ABDs are being squeezed out of the system during the current budget crisis (which
is especially severe in my state) because departments are required by the union contract first to accommodate Lecturers who have been working in the system for a while, regardless degree attainment. In this system, those tend to be
terminal MAs, and Ph.D.s and ABDs are finding themselves losing work to faculty who, while playing an important long-term role in their departments that needs to be recognized, are not as qualified for their positions as the newer people.

I would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this issue, because most of the discourse that I read here (though I have to admit to checking
in here only periodically) and elsewhere on the academic labor movement does not explicitly address the disparity of qualifications that sometimes exists within the broad category of 'adjunct faculty,' which also varies dramatically between departments, especially at those institutions (and I speak here of four-year institutions, not community colleges) near the bottom of the so-called 'national hierarchy of colleges and universities.' I'm thinking here especially of Marc Bousquet's recent piece in the Minnesota Review
("Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers"), which presents the adjunct composition workforce as composed of underemployed Ph.D.s., rather than of terminal MAs. His version of the adjunct problem seems only to represent the state of affairs at
research schools and more elite colleges. In my state, Ph.D.s dominate the Lecturer category in the nationally recognized state research universities, but
not in the regional teaching universities, where the adjunct workforce is in a state of transition and, while terminal MAs still dominate the Lecturer workforce and the discussion of the prospect of gaining job security for adjunct faculty, more and more Ph.D.s and ABDs are arriving, spat out from the research institutions who exploited their labor during their graduate training, which was (or is) much more lengthy and expensive than that of the terminal M.A.s.

So I'd be really interested in seeing a discussion of how the 'Academic Labor Movement' is to define its constituency. To what extent should a union that
represents contingent faculty draw distinctions between employees based on degree attainment? How might those distinctions be made?

Not that anyone asked :), but since it's my blog, here's my opinion:

First, a union is supposed to be just that: a union. Once you start making divisions, you're undermining the potential strength your union, and helping management to follow a divide and conquer strategy.

Second, it's not at all obvious to me that terminal MAs are "not as qualified for their positions as the newer people." If we're talking about teaching, many of them are likely at least as qualified, if not more so.

Third (and I'll probably get flamed for this, but here goes), the academic profession is undergoing a process of deprofessionalization. I won't rehearse the grim statistics, which I've already cited ad nauseam (check under "Academia" and "Academic Job Market" in my sidebar). Suffice it to say that tenure-track lines are being eliminated in favour of part-time and short-term contracts, and that the bulk of teaching in the American college system is now performed by an untenured majority.

I believe that reprofessionalization would require an insistence that you don't teach at a four-year college or university without the PhD. Teaching assistantship, fine. Though it's obviously open to abuse, there is nothing inherently wrong with the notion that graduate students should serve a teaching apprenticeship by working as teaching assistants. But once you put ABDs in the classroom as primary instructors, what you're saying is that the Ph.D. doesn't much matter: those without can do it, if not as well, then at least well enough to allow the administration to save a pile of money on labor costs.

I'm firmly convinced that one reason why we find ourselves in the mess we're in is that the profession has failed to behave like a profession, which is to say, failed to maintain guild-like restrictions on the point of entry. This is not some kind of romantic pining for a warm and fuzzy artisanal world we have lost. What guilds do is sometimes not very pretty. But that's how they maintain themselves as guilds.

Does my third point contradict my second point? No, not at all. I readily acknowledge that a terminal MA can be as a good a teacher, if not a better teacher, than a Ph.D. My point is that a profession which claims the Ph.D. as the main form of certification must insist on the Ph.D. as the main form of certification. My husband worked for a law firm prior to passing the bar. There was a lot that he was allowed to do, but there were also some restrictions (eg, he couldn't represent someone in court). Did passing the bar somehow magically make his legal research and writing incalculably better? Of course not. Was he capable of appearing in court even before he had passed the bar (even though he was not allowed to do so)? Of course. But he had to jump through that hoop and get that certification before he could assume all the relevant responsibilities over which his profession claims to have a monopoly. That's guildlike. That's how they continue to assert that claim.

Now, if I were Queen of the Academy for a day, I would bring in tight regulations and restrictions which linked practice to certification (okay, first I would have to create a binding regulatory body, the lack of which is precisely the problem). I would be careful to include some kind of grandfather clause, so that terminal MAs who had been teaching for more than a year or two would be exempt from the new regulations. The point would be to create the kind of restrictions that would allow the academic profession to reclaim a monopoly on their labor.

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Saturday, 6 March 2004

Lecture versus Discussion

In the comments to "We could hire God this year," David Salmanson asserts that lecturing is not teaching:

For those of you taping a lecture as an example of your teaching, don't bother. Lecturing is reading in a less interactive format. If they want to see a videotape, they want to see you interacting with students in a class discussion format: that is, teaching a class. That's the only reason I could think of for wanting to see a videotape. And incidentally, only semi-finalists would have to send the tape. I love this because you get to see what the applicant's definition of teaching is. My hope would be that everybody who sends a lecture gets tossed into the no on-campus interview pile. Of course, maybe this is why I bailed on academia for high school teaching.

"Failed Again" replies as follows:

Discussion is the only form of teaching? Now, I value a good class discussion, and have tried valiantly to use that model for years, almost entirely to the exclusion of the lecture model.

What I have found--only quite recently, at that--is that except in very small classes (15 or fewer), students overwhelmingly despise the discussion model. As someone who is quite dependent on student evaluations at this early stage of a career, I have had to pay close attention to that finding. What I have come to discover is that students (with the exception of the very small seminars) regard 'discussion' as a cop-out. They repeatedly have stressed in their evaluative comments that they want to know what *I* know about Early Modern literature, culture, history, theology, etc.--not what *they* know (which in many cases is not very much).

Discuss. (Or give a lecture).

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Fighting Words from Fish

In the past few months I have been saying nasty things in these columns (and also on radio and television) about members of Congress, Illinois state representatives and senators, the governor of Illinois, the governor's budget director, and the governor-appointed Illinois Board of Higher Education. I have called these people ignorant, misinformed, demagogic, dishonest, slipshod, and have repeatedly suggested that when it comes to colleges and universities either they don't know what they're talking about or (and this is worse) they do know and are deliberately setting out to destroy public higher education.

-- Stanley Fish, "Make 'Em Cry"

Stanley Fish takes on the Republican legislators (see this and that) and gets taken out for lunch:

In response they have sent me nice notes, trekked across the state to visit me in my office, invited me to talk with their colleagues, gone out and bought my books (and actually read them), taken me to lunch, and promised to arrange a dinner with the governor. (Not likely to happen, for, as far I can see, there's nothing in it for him.)

For Fish, the lesson is clear: university administrators and academics must abandon their defensive posture in favour of something more aggressive and perhaps even more offensive:

They have been diplomatic, respectful, conciliatory, reasonable, sometimes apologetic, and always defensive, and they would have done much better, I think, if they had been aggressive, blunt, mildly confrontational, and just a bit arrogant.

I admire his spirit.

And I agree that academics should be more assertive, and support the idea of "allowing no false statement by a public official to pass uncorrected and unrebuked."

But though I concur with Fish's suggestion that "defending the academy in bottom-line terms is a losing proposition unless you want to reach the conclusion that most of what you do should be abandoned," I'm troubled by the all-or-nothing stakes of the game he wants to play. If you're going to go down, Fish suggests, it's better to go down fighting:

Well, maybe nothing [will work]. Maybe we'll just have to learn to live (and perhaps die) in this brave new world where money is withdrawn from public higher education at the same time that ever more strict controls are imposed.

The problem is that Fish can imagine only two possible positions. On the one hand, the failed strategy of timid acquiscence to the bottom line: "redescribing the enterprise in the vocabulary of what they do" by "retelling it in the vocabulary of business or venture capitalism." Fish is surely right that this won't work for the humanities: let's face it, English literature will never be a money-maker. On the other hand, an outright refusal to even attempt to translate the language of the academy into terms that might be understood by those outside academe:

Instead of trying to justify your values (always a weak position), assume them and assume too your right to define and protect them. And when you are invited to explain, defend, or justify, just say no.

I have to believe in the possibility of a compromise between these two positions.

Again, I believe Fish is right to insist that the first strategy doesn't work, and I think it's about time someone said so. Sure, academics can attempt to redefine the academic enterprise as a type of business enterprise, but nobody will really believe them (they probably won't really believe it themselves), and when the axe falls, the humanities will be on the chopping block. But the second strategy won't work either. Yes, it might work for a celebrity academic, who might get to have dinner with the governor. But institutional viability depends on sustaining supportive relations over the longer term. And if academics don't even try to explain what they do to those from whom they seek support, how can they expect that support to continue? If the language of venture capital doesn't fit, does it then follow that there are no other languages and vocabularies available with which to explain the value of the academy to the world outside its doors?

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Friday, 5 March 2004

"We could hire God this year"

More proof (as if more were needed) of the "We could hire God this year" syndrome. Chun cites an application requirement that I hope is an aberration and not the beginning of a new trend:

From a recent job ad:

Semi-finalists will be asked to submit a half-hour video of one of their classes by April 12...

Was there ever a sentence more deserving of academic censure? Is this even legal?

I wonder if there are legal implications to videotaping a classroom full of students. Would one require their written consent? And how much would this cost, anyway? Whatever it cost, the burden clearly shifts from the search committee to the individual candidate.

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No Taxation without Representation

Any faculty member on the tenure track is a potential ally. You might be surprised to find how many professors are former non-tenure-track faculty members themselves. You want any and all of their support because they can help persuade their colleagues about the rightness of your cause.

-- Charles Naccarato, "Becoming Visible"

Charles Naccarato reports on a successful campaign to gain faculty senate representation for nontenured faculty members at Ohio University. It's a fairly optimistic piece ("some modest good news" is how Naccarato puts it), which places its emphasis on positive pragmatic strategies. Still, he does issue the following warning:

Be prepared for things to get personal. We academics like to portray ourselves as people who are above being swayed by personal attacks when judging the equity of an argument. If you've been in the academy for more than a few months, you probably know that this image differs somewhat from reality. It's quite natural for certain professors who are upset by change to start asking personal questions about the people making noise in the back row. Get used to hearing your name with the words 'disgruntled' and 'whiner' attached to it.
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Wednesday, 3 March 2004

I'd like to thank the academy...

...and the post-academy, and the would-be academy, and the anti-academy...*

Ogged notes that Unfogged is "one year old, as of sometime last week," and issues thanks to his readers and commenters.

Which reminds me that I should do likewise. Invisible Adjunct was a year old on 28 February. Sincere thanks to all those who read, comment, link, and email.

*As I write this entry, I must confess that I am not glamourously but tastefully attired in a ready-for-the-red-carpet ballgown. I was left in the lurch when my stylist eloped with my Pilates instructor, and I just couldn't decide between the Vintage Chanel and the Versace.

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"Jilted Entitlement"

In a recent entry on "Teachers Self-Evaluating," AKMA takes issue with the "self-deceptive, self-destructive, partisan, hollow rhetorics of jilted entitlement." It's an interesting post, and I think worth reading.

That said, I have to add that I'm a little surprised to find myself cited as Exhibit A in the proliferation of the above-mentioned "hollow rhetorics":

I read Invisible Adjunct’s blog regularly, and I used to leave comments there but quit bothering to compose elegant, finely-crafted arguments after I never won the Weekly IA Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory). (No, not really.) I am accountable to my many, many underemployed colleagues, and IA helps keep my feet to the fire.

I have to make an untimely, unwelcome observation, though. In all my reading of IA and the other sites of underemployed academics, the writers identify themselves as good (or “very good” or “excellent”) teachers and scholars...

...From what I read, everyone unjustly relegated to adjunct status is a popular, diligent, effective teacher, and many are strong researchers; are all the best teachers laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions?

A couple of quick points.

First, just for the record, I don't believe I have ever identified myself as a good, very good or excellent teacher and scholar (or, for that matter, as a mediocre, bad or very bad teacher and scholar). I can't speak for my readers and commenters, of course. No doubt some of them have, at some point or another, in some entry or another, identified themselves in terms that conform to AKMA's characterization.

Second, it is not at all the argument of this weblog that wonderful teachers and scholars are adjunctified while mediocre teachers and scholars are tenure-tracked and tenured. And though, again, I don't speak for my readers and commenters, I have to say that I don't really see too many of them arguing this position either. I think AKMA is misinterpreting a sense of discontent, of grievance, of injustice, that is undoubtedly expressed in some of the comments here. What people object to, I think, is the perceived contingency of the process, the sense that the game amounts to a crap shoot. As pencil vania put it in the comments to this entry:

My friends and I did all the right things--attended a top-ten program, taught a bunch of courses, published, tried to make dissertations that stand out--and all it amounted to was tossing dice at a craps table.

To make my position clear: I firmly believe that in today's job market, anyone who gets a tenure-track job must have some impressive credentials, and must have demonstrated at least the potential to become at least a good teacher and scholar. But that is not to suggest that anyone who doesn't land a tenure-track position does not have similar credentials and potential. In a situation where large numbers of candidates are chasing after a small number of positions, the measurement of merit can only take a search committee so far, and all kinds of other, more local and particular, criteria will enter into consideration. The more candidates there are for a given position, the more these criteria will matter.

For me, it's just obviously not the case that "all the best teachers [are] laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions." Which brings me to my final point (and this is a point that I made repeatedly many months ago in a series of related entries that I'm too lazy to look up and link to at the moment): my argument is that nobody who has acquired the credentials (a Ph.D.) and who performs at a minimum acceptable level should be adjuntified. To suggest or to imply otherwise is to make what I believe is a professionally suicidal argument about the value (or lack thereof) of the Ph.D. and of the credentialling process over which the profession purports to preside. Leaving aside the impact on individual lives and individual careers, this is a matter of serious concern for the future of the academic professions. I honestly cannot think of another comparable professions, the members of which would be prepared to argue that after years of intensive training, followed by certification, a significant proportion of the members of the profession would still be sufficiently lacking in merit, competency and potential as to deserve to work for minimum wage with no benefits.

To put it simply: if someone is good enough to be at the front of a classroom, that person should be working for a decent living. And if someone is not good enough to merit a decent living, that person should not be in front of a classroom.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct. Permalink | Comments (59)

Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Semi-Open Thread: Interdisciplinarity

While I was away, the recent Jane Bast thread turned into a conversation on the value (or lack thereof) of interdisciplinarity. What does it mean? What is it worth? An empty buzzword, or a bright and shining future for the humanities?

(Regular blogging will resume shortly.)

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