2014 Through the Academe Blog: March

[For the previous month, February, go here.]

Hank Reichman began the month by considering the decline of shared governance at Ft. Lewis College, exemplified by a change in course structure in relation to creits:

shared governance is the issue at FLC and it is an issue that should concern faculty everywhere.  To be sure, the fight at FLC is far from over.  Faculty leaders in AAUP and the [Faculty] Senate are considering their options, and many remain optimistic that the decision can be reversed.  But even if it isn’t, the task of organizing the faculty to defend their common interest and control of the curriculum will continue.

Describing a program of the “Healthcare Interprofessional Education of Pioneer Valley collaborative, composed of administrators and faculty in healthcare and health sciences disciplines from colleges and universities in the greater Springfield, MA area,” Walter Breau observed that:

as medicine and healthcare delivery becomes more globally interdependent through demographic shifts and technology innovations, the education of health professionals must be looked at globally as well.

This is another instance where higher education can no longer see itself as bound by national boundaries.

I wrote about Suzanne Mettler’s new book, Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream:

Mettler argues, as do many of us, that higher education in America now creates its own caste system. The elite private, non-profit colleges are at the top, of course. Then come the public colleges and universities. Below them are the for-profits, where the worst problems are for students, especially for those who believe that the “education” they are getting will lead them into the security of the middle class.

Martin Kich considered how little the digital age has increased our knowledge, at least according to vouchercloud.net:

Well, here we are at least two to three decades into the information age, in which personal computing devices and the Internet have become not just commonplace tools or toys but almost universal elements of our daily lives, and a recent survey demonstrates that American’s basic knowledge of technology is as deficient as their knowledge of science.

John K. Wilson interviewed Joseph Lowery on the anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan, a revolutionary Supreme Court ruling on press freedom. Lowery was one of the defendants:

Q: There were many allegations of racism at the Sullivan trial, including the all-white jury, references by the lawyers to cannibalism in the Congo and Sammy Davis Jr., calling the black lawyers “lawyer” rather than “Mr.”, how the word “Negro” was pronounced, and the judge calling for “white man’s justice” and segregating the courtroom after some black and white spectators sat together. What do you remember about the racism of the trial?

JL: I remember very vividly the constant references to Sammy Davis, Jr., by the plaintiff’s attorneys because he had just married a white woman.

In light of a new anthology examining MOOCs (one I contributed to), I commented:

If the scholarly anthology of the future were to follow this pattern, the traditional academic journal would soon find itself outmoded and ignored, for the anthology, not the journal, would be the nexus of the best written work in almost any field. Scholars would seek each other out to collaborate–not necessarily on particular essays but on the books as a whole.

Reacting to a number of articles he had recently read, Kich said this:

What I really think is at issue is the value of actual education: the unifying theme seems to be that the degree may have some value but not the actual education. At its core, this is a 21st-century version of the mythology of the self-created man–the digital age’s version of the “men who built America” (to borrow the title of the recent History Channel series), the new Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Morgans. But, for most Americans, for whom a college degree will mean two and a half times the lifetime earnings of someone with just a high school diploma, it is an ideologically driven fairy tale. And given that “lifetime employment” with almost any corporation is now an anachronism and that technical skills become almost as quickly dated as our digital gadgets, the value of a college degree will become increasingly proportionate to the actual education that the individual has received. Because it is that education that will provide an individual with the intellectual capacity to shift career paths flexibly and successfully multiple times over the length of his or her working life.

Janet D. Stemwedel, in discussing some of the problems of academic hiring, cautions us:

a new faculty hire is not like a wireless learning-delivery device. A new faculty hire is a human who, in the course of helping to achieve the shared goals of the department, can be legitimately expected to pursue goals of her own.

We forget that to the peril of our profession.

In another interview, Wilson queried Matthew Abraham whose new book is Out of Bounds: Academic Freedom and the Question of Palestine:

4) There is a very marginalized left-wing approach against academic freedom, arguing that academic freedom only protects a privileged class and therefore the concept of academic freedom should be abandoned and the left should use any means possible to silence their political enemies. You seem to agree that academic freedom often is sharply limited, but what would be your position about this viewpoint? 

MA: I’m not quite sure what it would mean to “abandon” academic freedom since it largely serves as a rhetorical device anyway. I’m familiar with this critique, but I don’t think it tells us anything. If the stakes are high enough, academic freedom will be redefined to protect the powerful, as it clearly was in the Finkelstein case. The privilege of academic freedom is highly contextual and is only operative, according to figures such as Stanley Fish, in professional contexts. As he has pointed out, and as I’m sure he’ll explain in his forthcoming book on academic freedom from Oxford, as the claim for freedom in the concept of “academic freedom” gets larger and larger, the claim that one is performing an “academic” task becomes smaller and smaller. In other words, there is a dialectical relationship between “academic” and “freedom” in the concept of “academic freedom.” I think this is an important point, one worth reiterating and remembering. Academic freedom is defined and delimited by professional and disciplinary norms.

Jonathan Rees weighed in on shared governance:

While there are many aspects to the current situation at CSU-Pueblo, the one thread I’ve tried to pull here is a story about failed shared governance. Our President seems to think that consulting a few faculty members under difficult circumstances is tantamount to shared governance, but the administration was really just going through the motions so that they could do what the Chancellor of our system wanted to do all along. The result lacked any support from the broad swath of faculty not party to those talks. The result even lacked support from at least a few of the faculty who were party to those talks. No wonder so many of us got upset. The more important an issue is to faculty in general (and course load issues are very important to faculty in general), the more important it is that any administration get as many faculty as possible to buy into the results. Otherwise, they will have a lot of very unhappy faculty on their hands.

Beth Evans discussed new “revisions” on accreditation standards concerning libraries:

Whether it be to end the collective buying power of the institution we all know and call a library, or to cast aside the highly-trained individuals we call librarians who are equipped to guide us through the ever-expanding choices of information resources, the academy would not be acting wisely to shut the doors on its libraries.  Nor is Middle States, or any accrediting body that works in higher education, wise to eliminate libraries and librarians from its expectations of what it should find in a college or university designed to educate the next generation of working and thriving adults.

Douglas Boyd addressed tenure recommendations and presidential vetoes:

For faculty receiving a unanimous vote in favor of renewal by their PTC the applicant should be confident of tenure renewal barring egregious actions such as criminal activity. What this ultimately boils down to is shared governance. Instead it seems that a semi-dictatorial system is in effect at our University of Texas institution where the decision for tenure renewal can amount to an arbitrary process decided by one person. The latter for sure must be a morale buster for faculty.

The adjunct crisis continued to be of interest. Miranda Merklein wrote of the continuing us/them situation helping keep the whole of us from achieving resolution:

Tenure track and full time faculty speak of themselves as “we,” as in “we, the department”; contract professors, better known as adjuncts, are the outsiders, the “you guys”, separate and inferior no matter how long we have worked at a particular institution or how many classes we teach. “Thanks for helping us out,” they say. “We appreciate your flexibility.” While I realize this internalized superiority is not necessarily a result of conscious intention, it is damaging nonetheless, especially because this ideology is continually reinforced by the polarized working conditions of the two-tier faculty campus.

Michael DeCesare described the situation at the University of Southern Maine:

Dismissing faculty, negating tenure, and slashing academic programs amounts to robbing USM’s students of their educational experience and their tuition money, especially in light of widespread administrative bloat throughout the UM System. To their great credit, the students at USM understand that they are being robbed. They understand that their professors are being robbed too, not only of their tenure and academic freedom but, in the case of those whose jobs are on the chopping block, of their livelihoods.

There was much more, of course, during the month–and much more to come. Posts on subsequent months of 2014 will be appearing soon!

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