More on the Clown Car

Since posting on David Brooks’ “When the Circus Descends” yesterday, Stephen Sondheim’s great song “Send in the Clowns” has been going through my head, especially these lines:

I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

What frustrates me so is that all of us should have the same goals concerning education, “I thought that you’d want what I want.” The goal should be real education, described by John Dewey as well as anyone has:

I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.

This is not training for jobs. It is not a competition with other nations. It is a fundamental component of society and the basis for its progress. “Sorry, my dear,” but it also starts with the individual, as Dewey writes, and moves from there into society’s “funded capital of civilization.” It does not work when imaged from the top down, as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that Brooks extols tries to do. Structured from the needs of the top and not from those of the students at the bottom, it becomes training, not education Continue reading

Backseat Driving in the Clown Car

Backseat driving in the clown car: that’s what pundits are about, today.

In The New York Times, David Brooks tries to turn that around, making out that is those who disagree with him who have the red noses and squeeze horns. He mounts a defense of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) based on the idea that those he shills for are the wise and considerate and caring–and that everyone else is either raw material or the lunatic fringe (both left and right).

Education, to Brooks, “is to get students competitive with their international peers.” What the students need in their personal lives, or want, these don’t matter. What communities need, in terms of citizens and contributing members, doesn’t matter. And anyone who disagrees with Brooks and those he advocates for is a nut. A clown. Continue reading

Across the Great Divides? No More (Updated)

No matter the measure you use–education, income, heritage, race, family size, job type, language–Americans are moving to greater segregation than we have ever before experienced. This is a no-brainer; it has been the pattern for decades, and it becomes more dominant each year.

We must be satisfied with it, for we are doing nothing, absolutely nothing to change it. Certainly not in higher education.

My students, most of them first-generation college students, many of them immigrants, almost all of them from the less fortunate “side of the tracks” in one way or another (generally in many), are still sold the dream that they can make it to the other side of the divides, that their education is going to make a difference. They have been told that degrees are all it takes, told it throughout their education. I work with an Associates degree program, a transfer program meant to prepare students for baccalaureate majors. Few of these students were strong candidates for college in the first place (else they would be at one of the other CUNY campuses) though most of them (even those lacking basic skills) have the intellectual capacity for college work. As in A.A. programs nationwide, however, their success rate is abysmally low. We, like educators everywhere, are working hard to change that–but we still are, also, abetting a situation of growing separation.

What are these students going to do when they do get their Bachelor’s degrees and find that they still aren’t going to get the prize jobs? When are we going to admit to them that the dreams for their futures that we have helped foster can never be realized, that their chances of crossing to the other side are next to nil? When are we going to recognize that we are fooling ourselves–along with our students–when we claim that degrees are enough in themselves? Continue reading

Cops and Robbers at the University of Southern Maine

This guest post was written by Michael DeCesare, Chair of the Department of Sociology at Merrimack College and President of the AAUP Chapter there.

At a special meeting of the University of Southern Maine (USM) faculty senate on March 14th, USM President Theodora Kalikow announced her plan to eliminate four academic programs and lay off 20 to 30 faculty—including tenured and tenure-track professors—along with 10 to 20 staff. What was the ostensible purposes of these unilateral decisions? To “re-brand” USM from a liberal arts institution into a “metropolitan university” and to make up $7M of a $14M shortfall. Martin Kich reported on these austerity cuts on this blog a week ago.

To this point, neither USM nor the University of Maine (UM) System has declared financial exigency. The supposed severity of the budget shortfall was quickly shown by Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women’s and gender studies at USM, to be a flimsy justification for firing faculty and closing programs. As Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times blog last week, USM’s administration “seems eager to downsize liberal arts and social sciences for reasons that go beyond money.” Continue reading

200 Princeton Professors Denounce Bestselling Author’s “Blame the Victim” Mentality on Sexual Assault

Susan Patton, author of Marry Smart, Finding the One, is an alumna of Princeton and was recently interviewed in the Daily Princetonian. The following exchange in that interview has provoked outrage:

“Daily Princetonian: You wrote: ‘Please spare me your “blaming the victim” outrage,’ saying that a provocatively dressed drunk woman ‘must bear accountability for what may happen.’ Why does the woman hold the responsibility in the case of rape or sexual assault?

“Susan Patton ’77: The reason is, she is the one most likely to be harmed, so she is the one that needs to take control of the situation. She is that one that needs to take responsibility for herself and for her own safety, and simply not allow herself to come to a point where she is no longer capable of protecting her physical self. The analogy that I would give you is: If you cross the street without looking both ways and a car jumps the light or isn’t paying attention, and you get hit by a car—as a woman or as anybody—and you say, ‘Well I had a green light,’ well yes you did have a green light but that wasn’t enough. So in the same way, a woman who is going to say, ‘Well the man should have recognized that I was drunk and not pushed me beyond the level at which I was happy to engage with him,’ well, you didn’t look both ways. I mean yes, you’re right, a man should act better, men should be more respectful of women, but in the absence of that, and regardless of whether they are or are not, women must take care of themselves.” Continue reading

Challenging the Necessity of Eliminating Faculty as an Austerity Measure: A Letter from a University of Southern Maine Alumna to University President Theo Kalikow

What follows is a letter sent by a University of Southern Maine alumna to Theo Kalikow, the university president, in response to his announcement that full-time faculty positions need to be eliminated in response to a projected deficit in the institution’s budget. It is, in some respects, a follow-up to a previous post that I have made very recently on this topic:

The letter is re-printed here with the permission of its author.



Dear Theo Kalikow,

I would like to explain to you, using the critical thinking skills I cultivated under the guidance of extraordinary faculty at the University of Southern Maine—skills that got me into a highly competitive doctoral program in Sociology at an R1 University—why as an alum, I strongly suggest you resign immediately.

Having majored in Sociology and Women & Gender Studies (with a minor in English), my analysis of your current predicament is a sociological one. The institution of higher education in the U.S. is facing a crisis. Not a financial one, but a crisis that arose from a larger political and economic shift toward privatization of formerly state-controlled institutions. Continue reading

Full-Text of Today’s NLRB Decision Permitting Athletes at Northwestern University to Unionize

Northwestern University has already indicated that it plans to appeal this decision, and it may very well be overturned on appeal. But the arguments presented by the NLRB regional director who has communicated the decision are very thought-provoking.

I have removed the footnotes because I think that the decision is more than long enough without them. The full text of the decision, including the footnotes is available at: file:///C:/Users/Michael/Downloads/E-Mail/Decision%20and%20Direction%20of%20Election.pdf

I think that it is ironic that, of all of the Big Ten schools, Northwestern should be the institution at which student athletes should have sought to make this point, since the public perception would seem to be that it is probably the Big Ten university least associated with the its athletic history. But perhaps that–as well as its location in a state with a strong union tradition–make it the perfect place for such a petition to have been filed.









Case 13-RC-121359

  Continue reading

Tenure, The Presidential Veto and Abuse of Power

Guest Blogger Douglas Boyd is a Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.

The 1966 “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” (adopted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities (AGBU), the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU)) stipulates unequivocally that “faculty status and related matters are primarily a faculty responsibility; this area includes appointments, reappointments, decisions not to reappoint,…” Importantly, many universities including ours (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), as members of these organizations, should follow these espoused principles. That said, a growing concern is that administrations at US academic institutions, including ours, are increasingly rendering tenure decisions contrary to the recommendations made by the faculty body responsible for evaluation of applications.

A presidential reversal of a recommendation made by the aforementioned faculty body has recently been in the academic spotlight with the AAUP investigating the case of an Assistant Professor denied tenure by the President at Northeastern Illinois University despite a unanimous recommendation by their Promotions and Tenure committee (PTC). In their report (Academe Dec 2013) the AAUP sided with the Assistant Professor concluding that the “President’s stated reasons lack credibility as grounds of denying tenure.” The AAUP, following the 1966 Statement on Government, stated that the “final decision lodged in the governing board …should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances and for reasons communicated to the faculty.” Continue reading

Job offer negotiations and relationships with our future colleagues.

Many pixels have already been devoted to discussing the case of W, the philosophy job candidate who says her job offer was rescinded after she inquired with the department making the offer about what adjustments in start-date, salary, new teaching preps per year, pre-tenure sabbatical, and maternity leave might be possible. Rather than indicating which requests were just not possible, the department’s response to the inquiry withdrew the offer of employment entirely with the justification that the items about which W asked indicated “an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered.”

In case you’ve been glued to your grading instead of the internet, The Philosophy Smoker has a nice round-up of the commentary. It’s worth noting too that some have expressed doubts that this try to negotiate/lose the offer scenario could really have happened as described. Whether it did or not, I think this is a good opportunity to examine the relationship at the center of negotiations between a hiring department and a job candidate — namely, the relationship between future colleagues. Continue reading

Education Reform: The Individual at Risk (Except when Protected by Money)

Taylorism, the systematization of labor developed by Frederick Taylor, makes the worker immediately replaceable. Individual skill and knowledge becomes irrelevant–on the part of the worker. Only at the higher levels of management and ownership does creativity count for anything. It’s an elitist system positing that those at the lower echelons are merely cogs, not thinkers. It’s the elitism forwarded by Ayn Rand, whose The Fountainhead ends with Howard Roark atop a building he designed–with the implication that he created it completely. He didn’t, of course.  No one does–but those with money and power can create the illusion of their own freedom and competence, an illusion based on the unrecognized work of those who, for whatever reason, are below them.

I first experienced the Taylorization of education a little more than a decade ago, when I worked, for a time, for a for-profit online “college.” It was a writing class. Naive, I was a little perplexed by the nature of the course, built on a structure with little room for instructor input. As I see writing as a dynamic, an interaction between author and audience, I tried to add that in, giving the students a little sense of whom they were writing to. I tried to make a few other changes, as well. Soon, I came up against “my” administrator, someone who had never taught, had no advanced degree relevant to the subject, but who was responsible for oversight of the “facilitators” (as we putative “teachers” were called). Finally, I was threatened with immediate dismissal if I deviated from the proscribed path. I finished up the term but did not ask to teach there again. Continue reading