Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Guest Post: How the University Works

Okay, so this wasn't really sent in as a guest post so much as a recommended link, but I'll let it slide. In part because it looks like quite the project this guy has undertaken. (Though I haven't really watched any of it, so don't take me as vouching for the content here.) In part because the project looks to be at least tangentially related to many of the themes we all like to beat to death here at PJMB. But also because y'all are totally shirking your guest post responsibilities and I don't really have a lot to choose from. C'mon people. Throw me a fucking bone here. Goddamn freeriders. -- PGOAT

You might be interested in this YouTube series by Marc Bousquet on the corporatization of the university and the travails of contingent faculty.

-- JT


Anonymous said...

What level of entitlement makes well-fed, well-educated, coddled 20-somethings whine like that? Singing sad songs like they are child labrorers in coal mines?

untenable said...

Anon 2:12: It's the same entitlement their peers making big bucks in finance have. Class stability itself breeds a sense of entitlement in the well-to-do. So relatively less well-to-do == coal mine. "How dare they pay me this little!"

Of course, it's also the same sense of entitlement of many of the tenured profs. Somehow entitlement looks better when it's working for the person who has the sense of it.

Anonymous said...

A very high level

Anonymous said...

just so you know - some of us have families that we need to support. we aren't just a bunch of twentysomething bachelors.

and at least some of us were raised in working class families. no one expected us to go to grad school (or even college, for that matter), we worked at many low wage, low respect jobs getting here, and don't suffer from a massive case of entitlement. We aren't a single *class*, for god's sake. I have classmates with two parents in academia whose way to this point was paves with gold, and yeah, some of them have entitlement issues. But as a group, grads and new PhDs don't have that problem, because there are a lot of people like me. We weren't 'well-educated' except for what we eked out for ourselves, we weren't coddled.

Just because there are other exploitative jobs does not mean that some academic jobs are suddenly non-exploitative.

Anonymous said...

You know, I don't see all that many people actually whining if they manage to get a job after sinking their 20s into grad school. Most I know are incredibly grateful for the chance to do what they love, and totally cowed by the demands of getting tenure. Unlike my friend in real estate, who is all outraged that Obama wants to raise taxes on households making over $250,000, I would be very happy making $40,000 or whatever pretty much anywhere outside of NYC or San Fran.

What I do see people pissed about is the number of PhDs who don't get a decent job (read, not adjuncting or a VAP that will only lead to new VAPs) coming out of grad school. Maybe it's not rational, and obviously no one is *entitled* to a job, but the system is in fact exploitative. Grad students are taken in who have no good chance at an academic career and encouraged to continue along because cheap TA labor is needed and it seems to reflect poorly on a program if they have high attrition. And if God forbid a student actually finishes the PhD, he or she is "overqualified" (and underskilled) to do anything else.

Nope, not coal mines. Not child prostitutes in Thailand. But many are still getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop, as one might say. You don't like hearing it?

Go. elsewhere.

mr. zero said...

Obviously, the singing comes off as pretty self-righteous. But they're not coddled. They fight for what they think is right & for what they think they deserve, and they were willing to go on strike for it. That's not being coddled, it's having balls. (More balls than it takes to complain anonymously on the internet that you're offended by their sense of entitlement.)

Grad students at my school (not NYU) have an adequate wage, access to good health and dental care, and a system for the redress of grievances, because of the self-righteous, entitled, well-fed 20-somethings who started and run our union. It would be terrible if all the grad students at my university had to do without that stuff because nobody was self-righteous enough to fight for it.

Anonymous said...

Grad students at my school have ... access to the water cooler and that's about it, actually. I am in the union, but everyone else thinks that being in academia makes them too middle class to need it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero - dental? Jesus H. Christ!!! You must be in Canada.

Kass said...

More power to the fellow being interviewed!

I agree that contingent faculty are not only intellectually hobbled by the need - whether real or imagined - to be politically correct, but that under grad students are consequently deprived of the value of their education. Regardless of their field of study, if students do not get an ability to critically think along with their diploma, the whole process is rather pointless. This rings especially true for philosophy students, as we all know. Evaluating arguments and promoting controversy through intelligent, reasonable discourse is what we do, it is our trade.

God, is there no hope for us?

Dr. Myron L. Fox said...

If you think the corporatization of the university sucks, check out this recent New York Times article on a professor who got fired from Wesleyan for not having good enough student evals. Sure, it happens all the time. But disturbing nonetheless. I'm sure we'll be seeing more & more of it.

Anonymous said...

"Grad students are taken in who have no good chance at an academic career and encouraged to continue along because cheap TA labor is needed and it seems to reflect poorly on a program if they have high attrition."

You beg, plead, and fight to get into grad school. Then you resent them for letting you and not kicking you out early?

mr. zero said...


Nope. USA.

tenured philosophy girl said...

Hmm, Dr. Fox - I read the article and nothing in there convinced me that Wesleyan was wrong not to renew her. To me, the sense of outrage that the article seemed to be trying to generate was based on typical non-academics' lack of understanding of the difference between a TT position and a VAP. There is simply no default assumption, for a VAP, that they get renewed. Non-academics don't get this - if they understand tenure at all, they still think that non-tenure-stream positions are like those in most of the rest of the work world, where you get to keep them unless you screw up. It's just not like that as we all know. There's no injustice in not re-hiring a VAP no matter how well she did, even if she is rightly disappointed.

What do we know about her research? Why should we think she was an especially outstanding teacher? She sounds kind of flaky. I don't see why we should be indignant here at all.

Dr. Myron L. Fox said...

"There's no injustice in not re-hiring a VAP no matter how well she did..."?!

That's a patently false claim. (I was about to say "surprising" too, until I remembered who spoke it.) If it were true, then (for example), in this woman's case, her dept chairwoman's saying that she would be recommended for another year under certain conditions would have been utterly meaningless and would have implied no moral obligations on the part of the department, since (according to your view) there's no injustice in not rehiring, period! But maybe you're satified just in case your employers (or, at least, someone else's) satisfy their legal obligations. After all, what other kind is there, really?

In any case, the issue of VAP's and the specific woman in the article is rather beside the point. What is disturbing is the use of, and increasing reliance on, summative student evalations in the decisions to hire, rehire, promote, and grant tenure. Perhaps it doesn't disturb many who are already "tenured", girl. Nonetheless, it is disturbing. But, I suppose, if one is sufficiently submissive to authority or has been sufficiently indoctrinated or is sufficiently privileged, one might well conclude that there's no injustice in not hiring, not rehiring, not promoting, and not granting tenure to anyone at all for any reason that one's employer may wish to concoct.

Some of us would however prefer sanity and realize that the current use of student evals is just plain ridiculous. Students evaluating teachers?! Anonymously?! Snap out of it.

Anonymous said...

No, VAP positions are not guaranteed. But to suggest that white males are getting radical leftist women fired is idiotic.

Anonymous said...

Okay, on Bean, I'm surprised that a dept is using such clearly stupid benchmarks for renewing a VAP. I mean, that's just idiotic on their part. Do they really want instructors who give nothing but A's? But I don't think they wronged Bean. Besides the position being a VAP, the chair apparently told her about this condition at the beginning of her position.

Anonymous said...

Re: the Bean article.

The claim that someone who studies the intersection of race and dance (which isn't really a "core" area that a department would need to cover), and who has already been denied tenure somewhere else, was "fired" from (that is, not rehired to) an untenured and untenurable VAP because she failed to attain some arbitrarily set (and ridiculously high) standard in student-teaching evaluations (which are taken seriously by nobody) defies credulity. I don't believe it. I think she was fired for something else, and the evals are an excuse.

The claim that such a situation amounts to a "miscarriage of justice" is kinda dumb.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that most or all of those who are untroubled by the Bean case are untroubled by it not because they think she's a kook who didn't deserve to be retained anyway and not because they think she's mistaken about the "real" reason for her not being retained (i.e. it wasn't her course evaluations but something else, like kookiness), but rather because they have found a way of "beating" the current system of virtually mandatory student evaluation. That is, they are comfortable with the (possibly unjust) status quo because it's fairly easy to insure that the evaluations turn out to be good enough, and they believe that anyone who can't do so is either incompetent or a kook anyway. So it's not that there's no injustice in the system. It's rather that it's not an injustice that any non-kook needs to be too troubled about. What's maddening is when those who think so express their sentiments disingenuously with such sentences as "There's no injustice here."

tenured philosophy girl said...

Anon 2:44:
Um, no, I'm untroubled by it because 'V' in VAP stands for 'visiting' and there's no principle of justice that says that anyone needs to extend his/her original invitation to a visitor. If you invite someone to visit, you need NO REASON AT ALL not to go out of your way to extend the visit, though it may be nice to do so. If they had wanted to offer her a permanent or longer-term job they would have done so in the first place.

Of course there are larger issues about the academy's over-reliance on visitors, etc, but those are not about the Bean case per se.

Anonymous said...

Tenured 9:41:

As I suspected, you're thinking of it too much from the perspective of a tenured girl (emphasis on "tenured").

If any reason for not retaining Bean would have been just, then why did her chairwoman promulgate the tedious sham of "she would be recommended for a second year if she met certain benchmarks in her students’ evaluations of her"? For that matter, why did her department even bother with explaining why she wouldn't be retained, rather than simply saying, "Because we don't want to retain you. You were only a VAP after all." I suppose they were just being polite?

All of these things tend to give even lowly VAP's the not unjustified impression that there are in some cases standards such that, if they are met or exceeded, it would be unreasonable, if not unjust, not to retain them. Now, if there ever are such standards, then it is unjust to include among them student evaluation "benchmarks", simply because such benchmarks are always unjust. QED.

mr. zero said...


Long post. Sorry. Your post and the ones preceding it cover a lot of territory.

I wouldn't say that Bean is a kook. I would just say that her research interests fall outside the mainstream, and that it's harder to find academic work if your research falls outside the academic mainstream. (Also, I'd say she's pretty lucky to have found a VAP where she had the opportunity to teach upper-division classes in her area of interest.)

I would agree that Bean has not correctly identified the reason why she wasn't rehired. I find it extremely implausible that she would not be rehired for a VAP solely on the basis of good-but-not-great evals. Especially since downsides of evals mentioned in the article are well-known by everyone, and she's already been denied tenure. Something else is going on. What else? Why would her chair have falsely blamed the evals? I don't know; I'm not Columbo. The chair doesn't appear in the article, so she can't explain herself. One thing's for sure, though: the eval story is total bullshit.

Also, the article made no mention of her research. This is odd, since tenure decisions are made almost solely on that basis. (I'll say this, too: I know two people who were denied tenure. In each case the decision was egregiously unfair, but was entirely based on research and whether the person was a dick.)

I wouldn't even suggest that there is no injustice involved in the current status quo with respect to VAPs, but I agree that the idea that this article gives us any reason to think that Beam was the victim of a miscarriage of justice is pretty stupid. We don't know enough of the particulars to know that the decision not to rehire Beam was unjust. For all we know, she got exactly what she deserved.

There is a larger issue, of course, about whether the current VAP system is just. I recognize that the fact that people consent to VAP-type positions does not make them just--you might "consent" under duress. And as a VAP, I can attest to the fact that they suck; mine involves lot of teaching, not very bright students, and only a little job security (I have security through this academic year, but not beyond). But it's not clear to me that this represents an unjust system. It's not clear to me, for example, that I would reject such a system from behind the veil of ignorance. (Rather, this feature of the system is not very high on the list of things I would reject.)

I don't see what's wrong with the fact that there are VAP-type jobs. For one thing, there will always be one-year sabatical replacements. And from my own situation, when I completely failed to gain so much as a single interview at last year's APA, I was comforted by the knowledge that there were a bunch more less competitive (and admittedly less attractive) VAP job ads coming up. And I pooped in my pants with excitement when I got one. And now that I'm in one I believe myself (for that and other reasons) to be in a better position to find a TT job this fall. (I hope.)

I certainly wouldn't want to do this my whole career. And I definitely wouldn't want to do this as a 42-year-old father of 2. But that doesn't mean it's unjust system, and it doesn't mean it's not an all-things-considered shitty job. It's a lot of teaching, but no heavy lifting. It's not completely secure, but it's not completely insecure. And although it could be better in a variety of ways, the fact is that I'm lucky to have this job doing what I love--teaching and thinking about philosophy.

The Man said...

Mr. Zero said,

" a VAP, I can attest to the fact that they suck; ... lot of teaching, not very bright students, and only a little job security...

"....I pooped in my pants with excitement when I got one.

"...I'm lucky to have this job doing what I love..."

I love it when people love their shitty jobs and poop their pants when they finally get them!!! Another score for the status quo, as yet another one bites the dust. Hey, don't worry, I'm gonna get you too!