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For people who think I don’t know how to do short posts

This essay on American higher education is quite stupefyingly bad.  To find out why, read this response.  That is all.

Update:  And this is pretty good.  OK, now that is all.

Posted by on 04/27 at 01:18 PM
  1. Nick Lowe, touring with Little Village, uttered: “We have played many songs in three and four chords, and worked very hard to get out a two chord ditty for you.  But praise the heavens, we now present a song with no chords whatsoever; fortunately it is short.”

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  03:23 PM
  2. From the comments on the second link:

    A thoughtful and incisive article by Taylor hardly deserves the bellowing rodomontade treatment it gets from this poster.

    — emt · Apr 27, 02:11 PM

    Your use of ‘bellowing rodomontade’ without my express, ah, permission has been noted.  My solicitor will be contacting your solicitor.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  04:13 PM
  3. Whoa, with no title or update, this would even fit into a tweet.* My hat is off to you.**

    However, that’s quite an obstreperous link to “a ridiculous rant in reply to a well thought out and very reasonable column by Prof. Taylor,” if I may quote one of the brilliant refutations of Professor Bousquet in its entirety. (I would point out to those who use this form of critique that Dr. Johnson had to actually kick the rock.)

    *Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    **Actually, it’s off because I’m in my office.  But who says I can’t multitask?***

    ***Many, many people.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  04:26 PM
  4. Michael, I read the Delbanco article, and my reaction to it (as the parent of a college student and a high school junior) was, this is not good at all.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  04:55 PM
  5. And one of the reasons the Delbanco article is bad is that it doesn’t even mention the point made in the Bousquet article that you recommend as a trenchant analysis of the Times article.

    Captcha:  french, no cap, as in kiss, drain, letter, but not major.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  05:02 PM
  6. This just in: I like Marc Bousquet. Of course, I’m an adjunct teaching six sections a semester at two different colleges who still needs a third job to make ends meet.

    So what do I know?

    Posted by Jason B.  on  04/27  at  05:03 PM
  7. More than Delbanco knows.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  05:14 PM
  8. In United States of Chávezistan, rodomontade bellows at you!

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/27  at  05:20 PM
  9. My response to Taylor actually was a tweet:

    “So, a guy nearing retirement thinks the system he benefitted from his entire professional life should be scrapped.”

    And I even had room left for a link back to the Times Op-Ed.

    Posted by Dr. Drang  on  04/27  at  05:43 PM
  10. Predictably, the Taylor piece first raised my hackles with its repeated know-nothing sneers at medieval studies.

    Posted by Karl Steel  on  04/27  at  07:00 PM
  11. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

    I originally returned to school with the intention of landing one of those “teaching positions that do not exist.” I recently graduated, and though there were positions available around the country, my family was not too crazy about the nomadic tenure-seeking lifestyle. So I had to settle for a job in private industry willing to pay roughly half again as much as the typical Research 1 university professor earns (that’s right, I sold out). Even in this pitiful economy that PhD opened more doors to me than I had ever expected.

    What gives with the Times and their higher-ed bashing, anyway? Don’t they hire college graduates and people with advanced degrees? If we do go to a problem-based curriculum, I say the first cohort should dedicate itself to envisioning a new form of journalism, and maybe they can start by refashioning the Times.

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  07:39 PM
  12. Michael...how...could...you? Please do not short post again. I just got into the post and poof, over. I expect to swim deep and long, not skippy skip on the surface!

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  07:41 PM
  13. spyder,

    some concert/somewhere

    .....and if you liked the last song you’ll probably like this one. It’s got a lot of the same notes.

    e

    Posted by  on  04/27  at  08:28 PM
  14. Bloix @ 4-5:  I had only forty free minutes for Internets today, and I spent thirty-eight of them reading these essays and two wondering whether I should recommend Delbanco’s as “good,” “good, all things considered,” “meh,” or “pretty good.” So I’m willing to reconsider my hasty assessment.  But I do want to point out that Delbanco’s essay includes the following sentence:

    And at almost all institutions—-public and private, two-year and four-year—-reliance on part-time (adjunct) faculty who work for low wages and few or no benefits is increasing.

    And compared to Taylor’s WTF claim that some people out there in Flyoverland make only $5000 per course, this is pretty good, even by the standards set by Bousquet.  The soft bigotry of low expectations, I know.  So twitter me.

    As for Bousquet’s larger point—about how the job “crisis” is manufactured entirely by an employment system in which the “overproduction” of Ph.D.s masks the fact that X thousand teaching positions are held by people who do not have Ph.D.s—the best place to go, clearly, is here.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/27  at  09:23 PM
  15. Molochdammit, I commented on my own post at 16x the length of the original post.  Blogger succinctness epic fail.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/27  at  09:25 PM
  16. Molochdammit, I commented on my own post at 16x the length of the original post.  Blogger succinctness epic fail.

    Maybe you could begin your own Internet tradition and call it the “self-longer”? As in “did you see Bérubé’s self-longer today? Man, is that dude prolix about his own posts or what?”

    It would be the reflexive inverse of the “shorter,” which was created by Daniel Davies and perfected by Elton Beard.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/28  at  08:58 AM
  17. Michael, Delbanco does bemoan the use of adjuncts.  But he never seems to wonder how it can possibly be, with annual private college tuition rising for decades now at rates above the rate of inflation, and endowments at the high end schools soaring (even with the crash most endowments are higher than they were a decade ago), the elite private colleges remain strapped for funds. 

    For 40 years, private college tuition has risen at annually at about 2% above the rate of inflation.  This means that, even after adjusting for inflation, tuition today is over twice what it was in 1980. 

    If classrooms at even the best schools are increasingly being taught with casual labor, where on earth is the money going?  In article that is supposedly about a financial crisis, a little curiosity about actual spending patterns would have been warranted, don’t you think? 

    And with such astronomical tuition increases, how can it be that full-freight tuition doesn’t pay for an undergrad education?  Does it really cost more than $75,000 per 30 weeks (the length of the academic year) to educate an 18-year old, as Belbanco claims?  I don’t believe it, and if it’s true then there is something seriously amiss with private higher education.

    As you point out, Delbanco does mention the increased use of adjunct teaching staff, but he falsely relates this trend to the current recession, when the truth is that it’s an entrenched decades-old practice.  And when he addresses the plight of the newly minted Ph.D., he blames job shortages on “postponed retirements” of professors who have seen their investments lose value, not on schools that prefer to have undergrads taught by non-degreed adjuncts whose office is their 1999 Corolla. 

    And when he addresses the need to cut costs, the only source of “waste” he can imagine is the odd “program or professorial position or facility” that stays in place due to “inertia.” No discussion of the enormous increase in resources devoted to administration, admissions, marketing, fund-raising, regulatory compliance, and other non-teaching, non-research functions. 

    Although Delbanco identifies many problems, what is his only recommended solution?  More government money, via tax breaks and student aid programs.  Nothing is wrong with the system that more tax dollars won’t fix.  Just leave the elite universities alone to keep on doing what they’ve been doing, and give them more money to do it with.

    In my reading, Delbanco is a skillful apologist for the university establishment.  He blames long-term trends on the current recession, and wasteful spending on the faculty.  No administrator need do anything differently.  Eliminate some wasteful programs that persist only through inertia (African-American Studies, perhaps?), increase student aid programs, and all will be well.

    That’s why I said it’s a bad article.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  10:58 AM
  18. Michael, I’d love to see more of your thoughts on this article.  I’m stupefied by the notion that we should have themes, like *Water!* to replace the disciplines.  Why on Earth would anyone spend years training for that, with no job security, and in what department would they train for it?  The *Water!* department?  Contrary to popular belief, some folks still do get TT jobs; I’m one of them.  I want to expand that list of people, not throw the baby out with the bath*Water!*

    Hey, my captcha is job!  Or possibly Job, long O.  grin

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  11:26 AM
  19. I would guess from my own campus (UCLA) that the proportion of adjunct teaching actually goes down in a recession, because it is easiest to cut.

    As for the Times article, what can one even say about it? Even today’s first column by Douthat makes more sense.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  01:06 PM
  20. I found this critique even more trenchant than Bousquet’s:

    <i>http://suburbdad.blogspot.com/2009/04/project-based-education-response-to.html<>

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  01:08 PM
  21. Bloix @ 17:  As you point out, Delbanco does mention the increased use of adjunct teaching staff, but he falsely relates this trend to the current recession, when the truth is that it’s an entrenched decades-old practice.  And when he addresses the plight of the newly minted Ph.D., he blames job shortages on “postponed retirements” of professors who have seen their investments lose value, not on schools that prefer to have undergrads taught by non-degreed adjuncts whose office is their 1999 Corolla.

    And when he addresses the need to cut costs, the only source of “waste” he can imagine is the odd “program or professorial position or facility” that stays in place due to “inertia.” No discussion of the enormous increase in resources devoted to administration, admissions, marketing, fund-raising, regulatory compliance, and other non-teaching, non-research functions. 

    True dat.

    As for where the money goes: it is indeed a mystery.  To some extent, the students/families paying full fare are subsidizing financial aid for students/families who aren’t paying the full sticker price, but only to some extent.  And then there are those spanking new student centers and food courts and recreational facilities, the new business and finance building, etc.  All I know is that, as you say, the rate of tuition has drastically outpaced inflation while faculty raises have stayed in the 2-4 percent range for a couple of decades.

    As for those wasteful, inertial programs:  African-American Studies?  really? 

    BetsyD @ 18:  why do you hate Water? 

    Seriously, I think there’s a case to be made that faculty research and undergraduate instruction no longer conform to the entrenched “Department of X” model we’ve inherited.  Rather, in both the humanities and sciences, people organize their work around topics and problems (nationalism; public health; climate change), and, where they can, apply to interdisciplinary research institutes for released time.  But Taylor’s proposal obviously won’t fly (or swim!).  As you note, somebody’s gotta do the hiring, and temporary topic-clusters with seven-year sunset clauses ain’t gonna work.  Imagine:  I trained for a job in nationalism, but by the time I defended the dissertation, nationalism had been all figured out, so they shut down the Nationalism Studies clusters!

    But to repeat my point from the cultural studies talk/post:  the problem with the departmental structure we now have is that graduate students do all kinds of interdisciplinary work in the course of their studies—and then they still have to apply for jobs in traditional departments with traditional period-divisions and subdisciplinary subjects.  And undergraduates shuttle among the disciplines every day—until they declare a major, whereupon a department will effectively say, “we don’t know exactly why our majors should have to take 36 or 48 or 72 credit hours in our department, but we’ll fight tooth and nail for every last one of those 36 or 48 or 72 credit hours.” I’d really like to see more plausible alternatives to the department system than Taylor’s.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/28  at  01:37 PM
  22. My reference to African-American Studies was entirely gratuitous, based on my sense that Delbanco is the sort of high-culture conservative that would view “studies” departments as a diversion from the purpose of the university.  But I’ve only read one book by him and my recollection of that one is faint, so the comment was unfair. It’s hard enough to edit oneself in the writing that one does for work - to edit out the bad stuff in comment threads is impossible.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  02:00 PM
  23. Michael, while I value interdisciplinary research very much, I think it’s much more useful when it draws from the established practices of the disciplines and is done collaboratively.  It seems to me that some folks think “interdisciplinary work” means “getting rid of the disciplines,” as the original article seemed to imply.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  02:09 PM
  24. Bloix—OK.  I was just wondering whether it was something about African-American Studies, or an offhand comment, or perhaps you were proceeding alphabetically.  BetsyD—hold on! there’s a new post a-comin’ that addresses this very question.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  03:27 PM
  25. Bloix: 1999 Corolla

    As one who is hoping to sell my 1994 Corolla only because the family hates it, and who uses it as the de facto office, this hurt. I am five years behind the benchmark for hopeless loserdom.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  03:32 PM
  26. rm feel free to look down your nose at me and my 1993 Escort.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  03:51 PM
  27. Academia could do worse than a Kantian retrofit. Or maybe vis a vis one of his bastard sons, like this valiant soul--though not sure of precise effect on belle-lettres biz. 

    Or fuggetaboutit, enjoy the ride on the USS Shekelsmeister.

    Posted by Ezra Pound  on  04/28  at  04:22 PM
  28. Elliot: .....and if you liked the last song you’ll probably like this one. It’s got a lot of the same notes.

    Indeed, i remember that as well.  I spent a great deal of time on that tour, hard to remember all the nights in the blur (was it really 17 years ago now???).

    This comment thread, fortunately, has some new words rather than the same words as before: bellowing rodomontade???

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  05:07 PM
  29. Tim Burke has a good post on the interdisciplinary aspect of Taylor’s otherwise miserable article (& check out the comments):

    http://weblogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/?p=805

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  05:16 PM
  30. Worst thing I’ve read lately.

    Posted by Hattie  on  04/28  at  07:46 PM
  31. As in “did you see Bérubé’s self-longer today?

    Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    Man, is that dude prolix about his own posts or what?”

    ...Um, Ibid.

    If classrooms at even the best schools are increasingly being taught with casual labor, where on earth is the money going?

    Well, at a particular Ivy of my acquaintance, it’s a mixed bag.  On the one hand, tenured faculty are expected to continue teaching at least a little bit, which slightly reduces the need for adjuncts (while retaining the need for graduate TAs).  Also, a great deal of infrastructure was allowed to rot while the endowment was padded by previous administrations.  On the other hand, the president makes more than The President, and will receive almost that annual sum as a pension when he “retires,” presumably to take up a post at another college.  And the college has also been buying up more and more swathes of Shrew Maven, and initiating more new construction that it probably wishes it could take back now.  Add in all the need-based financial aid, and you have that well-mixed bag.  It’s not all “waste,” and it’s not automatically built on the backs of adjuncts, but there’s certainly some sacrosanct slabs of lard.

    And “discipline” vs. “department” has its own complexities.  I work in a center that was primarily grounded in a particular discipline, but which sought to offer collaborative services in an interdepartmental fashion.  A recent attempt to create a more “interdisciplinary” environment turned into a debacle as advocates of particular disciplines fought to get their own piece of the action.  This had insalubrious consequences, and now it’s unclear what, if anything, will become of the Interdisciplinary World of Tomorrow.  I suppose that’s what being grounded in the intellectual traditions of the disciplines in question is meant to prevent.  But it sure seems hard to stick to that criterion sometimes.

    Posted by  on  04/28  at  09:52 PM
  32. Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    I’m a “Badda-bing!” kind of guy, myself (e.g., “Shrew Maven—Badda-bing"), but let’s not fight about it. It’s not worth a bellowing rodomontade, that’s for sure. We can all agree that the audience should always be reminded to try the veal and to tip their servers. Otherwise, it’s a trip to the underground borscht mines our new Chávezian overlords will be opening soon.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/29  at  09:11 AM
  33. Otherwise, it’s a trip to the underground borscht mines our new Chávezian overlords will be opening soon.

    (1) It’s “oil caves.”

    (2) I was going to make some sort of borscht reference, but you beet me to it.

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  10:05 AM
  34. I was going to make some sort of borscht reference, but you beet me to it.

    mds, il miglio fabbro! “Beet” deserves a “Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!” *and* a “Badda-bing!”

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/29  at  10:19 AM
  35. mds, il miglio fabbro!

    (1) You really needed to save that for one of Ezra Pound’s comments.

    (2) You know who else wrote in Italian?  Mussolini.

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  11:26 AM
  36. John Protevi is the T. S. Eliot of liberal fascism.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/29  at  11:54 AM
  37. Oooo Bop Shabam!

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  12:03 PM
  38. I have, indeed, often been described as classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/29  at  12:08 PM
  39. Il Duce’s italy was initially neutral, even in ‘39, until more or less forced into alliance with the huns (Churchill supported fascism as well until the panzers rolled--so did TS Eliot).  Il Duce claimed to be implementing Plato’s Republic, for most part, and EP apparently agreed.  Mistakes were made of course, but Goldberg’s facile pairing up of the blackshirts and nazis one of his numerous intellectual crimes…

    historical realism for kix

    Posted by Ezra Hound  on  04/29  at  12:51 PM
  40. To me, the funniest part is that I actually meant for the two points in 35 to be entirely separate jokes, yet Ezra Pound is obviously relevant to both.  HAW!

    I have, indeed, often been described as classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion.

    Hey, has anyone ever seen John Protevi, T.S. Eliot, and the Duke of Norfolk in the same room at once?

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  02:56 PM
  41. Hey, has anyone ever seen John Protevi, T.S. Eliot, and the Duke of Norfolk in the same room at once?

    No, and that is no doubt central to your point!

    p.s., I’m not ashamed to admit I had to go to Wikiville for the Duke of Norfolk reference! Where I learned that the ancestral home, Arundel Castle, was used as Carcroft Castle in the MacGyver television movie Trails to Doomsday.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  04/29  at  03:11 PM
  42. p.s., I’m not ashamed to admit I had to go to Wikiville for the Duke of Norfolk reference!

    Well, it was rather obscure, so you’re recused.

    And MacGyver was famous for his anti-gun stance and his European pocket knife.  Coincidence?

    Posted by  on  04/29  at  03:50 PM
  43. I wrote an essay reacting to Taylor’s piece (linked below).  Basically, he thinks of the university as a factory that can be fixed with some good old free market prescriptions—not a good idea.  His idea of networking departments is solid, though.

    http://www.whyweworry.com/blog/2009/06/25/restructuring-humanities/

    Posted by Clint  on  06/25  at  05:41 PM
  44. That’s tru. It’ is Higher education is in trouble, no doubt, but the good Doctor fell short in his descriptions and hence in his solutions.

    Posted by civil rights lawyer  on  12/30  at  04:48 PM
  45. I really can’t believe it.

    Posted by Hawaii Golf  on  03/30  at  11:29 AM
  46. This was a really interesting way to read an article.... Usually the story itself is not just in comments.

    Posted by Emily  on  11/18  at  02:12 PM

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