New Year’s Resolutions for Academics

It’s mid-August, the time at which every academic has to quit hitting the snooze button on their internal clock. That’s right; another academic year is looming, and with it comes the excitement of new classes, new colleagues, and–especially–new students. And it also comes with the faux excitement (“aren’t you just excited about all this? *chuckle*) of opening faculty meetings, committee workloads being divvied up, and the latest exciting-yet-unfunded “initiative” emanating from on high. I tend to do a lot of reflecting around mid-August. What went well last year? Where were the dumpster fires? Why didn’t I flee to Micronesia this summer? And, since my current position allows me to help lead new faculty orientations and work with my colleagues on reflecting about our practice, I have lots of conversations that extend that reflection beyond my own space and into the larger space of academe which we all share. Every year, I try to set goals and create habits that will help me balance my various commitments while remaining at least somewhat sane and pleasant to be around; my results vary, but I at least survive until June every year. Some years, that alone is a victory. Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions for Academics”

Let Them Eat (Unbundled) Cake!

As the cost-funding-value-sustainability debates careen along their courses in higher education, those of us in the academy who are actually:

a. trying to follow these debates, and

b. invested in the ways in which all this impacts student learning first and foremost,

are being bombarded by confusing claims and counterclaims. Technology will save us, but it will ruin us. It will fix costs and increase them. Students know how to use these tools and they don’t. Faculty are overpaid and underpaid. There is too much focus on rock-star professors and a fixation on adjunct labor. The end is nigh!, we hear. DISRUPTION DISRUPTION DISRUPTION DISRUPTION–this trendy yet ultimately vapid injunction hurls itself at us like a cloud of mosquitoes: individually, not so bad, but collectively, it’s a giant pain in the ass. And amidst all the sound and fury, we stand more confused and frustrated than ever. What amazes me about this swirling ether of reformist, buzzword-saturated discourse is that student learning–THE BEDROCK MISSION OF THIS ENTIRE DAMN ENTERPRISE–has been shuffled to the background, relegated to an implied concern at best, an extraneous complicating factor at worst. Continue reading “Let Them Eat (Unbundled) Cake!”

Fighting the Good Fight; or, I Didn’t go to Grad School to Make Apparatchiks

Higher education is in trouble. The Humanities, the Liberal Arts–more so. It’s been a rough year or so for colleges and universities throughout the United States. North Carolina was the bellwether, falling victim to an Ayn Rand-inspired hatchet job. More recently, the Republican clown car continues to disgorge governors who apparently believe that eviscerating their states’ educational systems is the surest path to the presidency. Louisiana‘s universities lost 80%–EIGHTY. PERCENT.–of their funding, rendering them public enterprises in name only, a blood sacrifice for Bobby Jindal’s single, measly, margin-of-error-prone percentage point in the national polls. Not to be outdone, the Scott Walker regime, after gorging on the still-bleeding corpse of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions, savaged what used to be a crown jewel of public institutions of higher learning. Gone is shared governance, gone is tenure, gone is any meaningful semblance of the Wisconsin Idea–and gone is a massive chunk of funding as well. In the midst of this carnage, we hear talk about “efficiencies,” and programs that should “guarantee graduates a good job”; apparatchiks trot out metrics that trace average career earnings, and bright-eyed legislative aides who majored in pre-law and Milton Friedman pooh-pooh programs that don’t lead to some sort of immediate “deliverable” or “job creation.”

Continue reading “Fighting the Good Fight; or, I Didn’t go to Grad School to Make Apparatchiks”

Guest Appearance: The Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast

I had the distinct pleasure of being the guest on the Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast this week. Thanks to Bonni Stachowiak for the great conversation, and for producing a wonderful podcast series. If you’re not familiar with the Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, it’s a great resource (despite my inOld Time Radio_Headphonesvasion of episode 52), and y’all should definitely check it out!

The Podcast archive can be found HERE.

If you want to hear what I actually sound like, and are interested in a discussion about respect as a key component of teaching, head to Episode 52 right HERE.


The Research Paper is Dead. Long Live the Research.

Why do we assign research papers?

My labors shall be a model for History majors for all time
My labors shall be a model for History majors for all time

We’ve all asked this question, usually at about one in the morning during the last week of classes when we’ve just found a conclusion cut and pasted from Wikipedia, or have written “Where’s your thesis?” in someone’s margin FOR THE ELEVENTY BILLIONTH TIME. It’s our common burden during grading season: we lug home a tote bag full of papers, put on a put of coffee, and begin to do hard time in Grading Jail. Some of the papers are brilliant examples of mature research and analysis, and some begin with “since the dawn of time, man has engaged in conflict, and nowhere was this more true than in the Spanish-American War.” Some of them show wide research, and some don’t. Some of them are well written,and some are a word salad of colloquialisms and faux-scholarly terms lifted willy-nilly from Continue reading “The Research Paper is Dead. Long Live the Research.”

I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.

I was having a really good day today; recovering from post-semester burnout, recharging the batteries–all in all, getting to my Happy Place. But then I read Mark Bauerlein’s Op-ed in today’s New York Times, and now I’m all irritated. “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Bauerlein asks; he then goes on to tell us, basically, “not much.” And who’s responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, you might wonder? Well–there’s students, for one. In today’s consumerist and career-over-true-education society, they just don’t engage with professors outside of the classroom transaction. “They have no urge to become disciples,” according to Bauerlein. Why don’t they want to become disciples? Well, colleagues, there’s where it becomes our fault, too:

Sadly, professors pressed for research time don’t want them, either. As a result, most undergraduates never know that stage of development when a learned mind enthralled them and they progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model

Who even realizes they want to become an acolyte of a rock-star professor if they never get to the right “stage of development?” College seems to be reduced, in this view, to a several-year series of rote careerist transactions between infantilized students and disinterested professors. Gone are the halcyon days of yore when professors dispensed wisdom to adoring throngs of geek-groupies, never to return. O THE POOR CHILDREN.

Who wants to be my disciple?
Who wants to be my disciple?

Continue reading “I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.”