Archive for August, 2010

August 19th 2010
Stop admitting Ph.D. students?

Posted under American history & jobs & students

Psychology professor Leslie Harris published a provocative column yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, in which she explains why she no longer accepts Ph.D. students into her lab at the University of Kentucky:

After a few years of watching the academic job market collapse into a seeming death spiral, I also started to wonder whether my “full disclosure” strategy of trying to scare off prospective graduate students was adequate. I started to entertain the possibility that if the problem was too many qualified applicants for too few jobs, then perhaps the responsible – even ethical – course of action would be for me to stop contributing to the oversupply of applicants.

So, a few weeks ago I revised my departmental web page to include the following statement: “Notice to prospective graduate students: I will not be accepting new students in my lab for the indefinite future.”

.       .       .       .      .       .      

I think academia shares many of the classic elements of a social trap: It is in most faculty members’ and departments’ best interests to recruit a lot of graduate students. Churning out Ph.D.s is one of the major metrics of departmental “success.” Departments need graduate students to teach their classes, and faculty members need them to run their labs. Yet, as in any social trap, when everybody acts in their self-interest, a negative collective outcome ensues. I have served as chair or co-chair of 13 Ph.D. students in my career, a number I’m guessing is typical of most research faculty. Population growth of that magnitude is a Malthusian melt-down in the making and simply isn’t sustainable. We’re not creating enough academic jobs to absorb all those Ph.D.s, and in today’s economy, applied jobs are disappearing as well.

The comments on her article at IHEare all over the place–from people accusing her of deciding not to do part of her job and of patronizing grad students, to people who applaud her decision.  After all, she stands to lose prestige among her colleagues in her university as well as within her profession generally if she doesn’t work with Ph.D. students. Continue Reading »


August 18th 2010
Now go do the right thing: STFU and read the frakkin’ U.S. Constitution!

Posted under American history & bad language & Gender & GLBTQ & jobs & race & unhappy endings & wankers

I’m sure that if you care, you’ve already heard about the extremely strange racial tirade that has apparently ended (for now) Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio career.  This article by Mary Elizabeth Williams sums up Schlessinger’s angry outburst at a caller in which she screamed the N-word eleven times.  Joan Walsh at Salon writes that last night on Larry King, she announced that she’ll leave the airwaves when her contract ends at the end of this year because she wants to “regain [her] First Amendment rights.  (Check out those links–they include both audio and video richness for your full and complete understanding.  Go listen to the audio link in the Williams story–don’t miss the part where she says that it’s ironic that there are so many people complaining about racial discrimination when we have a black President!  Priceless.)

Walsh focuses on Schlessinger’s curious victimology and her willful misunderstanding of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and rightly so.  She writes,

Like a lot of right-wingers lately (see the so-called “ground zero mosque” demonizers), Schlessinger shows a poor grasp of what the First Amendment does. It protects us from government abridging our speech rights; it doesn’t protect us from other Americans deciding we’re racially divisive idiots when we use the word “n!&&er” 11 times in a a single exchange with one caller. . . .

Then there’s the claim [on King's show that] she can’t be “helpful and useful” under the current circumstances, which seems to indicate she can only be “helpful and useful” if she can use the word “nigger” 11 times in one of her rants without being criticized. Schlessinger has gotten away with being “helpful and useful” in all her homophobic, sexist, right-wing glory for almost three decades. It’s amazing this single run-in with American decency has finally made her retreat.

But this wasn’t Schlessinger’s first major on-air meltdown that p!$$ed people off– Continue Reading »


August 18th 2010
Your free laugh of the day: “A Plagiarism Carol”

Posted under fluff & students

From the library of the University of Bergen in Norway, we have “A Plagiarism Carol.” (It might be more seasonal to show this to you closer to exams for the fall semester, but a colleague of mine just forwarded this to me.)

Not just Charles Dickens, but also Dirty Harry, 24, and The Terminator, plus Ozzy Osborne ca. 1982–what’s not to like?  Remember, kids–plagiarism really can derail a career

I’ll be posting more about career derailment later today.


August 17th 2010
College major satisfaction, then and now

Posted under American history & childhood & happy endings & students

Inside Higher Ed reports on an interesting recent survey of Sociology majors in 2005, which said that “70 percent were satisfied with their major when they were seniors. By 2009, asked whether they were satisfied with their major after having been in the world of work or graduate school for a few years, only 40 percent were satisfied.”  Of course, this survey may just have been timed spectacularly poorly, asking recent grads in the midst of the worst recession since World War II how they feel about their college majors, and the article notes this unfortunate coincidence.

The survey raises an interesting question for those of us who are skeptical of the value of customer satisfaction surveys end-of-semester student evaluations:  how do students think about their educations over time?  I myself tend to think that students gain more appreciation for their courses over time and after they see how incredibly random and corrupt adulthood generally is.  But the survey results here suggest another possibility.

Now that I think of it, I was very satisfied with my education at the point I had completed it.  I wrote an award-winning Senior thesis, and I had been admitted (with a T.A.-ship) to my top choice of graduate programs.  So, mission accomplished, right?  Well, sortaContinue Reading »


August 16th 2010
“Dead wood,” mandatory retirement, and advancement (oh my!) Plus the Isley Brothers.

Posted under American history & happy endings & jobs

Tenured Radical has a brief comment in a web feature at the New York Times called “The Professors Who Won’t Retire.”  (An entirely unjudgmental and impartial title if I ever saw one!)  Read through all of the comments–a virtual rogue’s gallery of faculty and (former) university administrators if ever I saw one.  (Click over there–you be the judge.)  Many of the commenters (TR included) push back against the notion that it’s the “professors who won’t retire” who have cause the (40 years and counting) job crisis in academe, and not the “universities who won’t hire tenure-track faculty and hire adjuncts instead.”

That old expression “dead wood” appears in a number of the commentaries, and commenters either dismiss it as a figment of the imagination or wield it like a truncheon.  You all know what side of this I’m on–for a reminder, see my post about “dead wood” from two years ago.  I’ll just reiterate my suspicion that “dead wood” is mostly a political tool for those who don’t want to fully fund higher education and adequately staff academic departments.  (Why buy a tenure-track faculty member when you can get three adjuncts for the same price?)

I’ve been mulling our current conundrum lately since my last (not entirely articulate) post about the academic life and the three-legged stool of research, teaching, and service that’s supposed to be the foundation of our careers. I think commenter Perpetua expresses my thoughts (and perhaps yours, too) very well here: Continue Reading »


August 14th 2010
Profiles in Courage?

Posted under American history

Seriously?  Because President Obama has read and can reasonably interpret the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?  (You know–the one he swore to preserve, protect, and defend?)

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

I’ve been traveling today so I haven’t kept up with all of the chatter, but I heard about this last night from the BBC World Service as I tried to fall sleep, and wondered at all of the play it was getting when Obama’s comments seem so obvious.  What was the big friggin’ deal?  The statement was made at a Ramadan observance at the White House last night, so it was an appropriate venue for the President to make his statement.  It’s a perfect issue on which Obama might express an opinion–since it’s really a local issue over which he has no real authority.  (Unlike say ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which he could do with the stroke of a pen, or a host of other campaign promises made that are still unfulfilled.)  So he can’t raise expectations here–he was just handing out a warm slanket to his guests, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there are people out there who think Obama’s statement is the awesomest, hopey-changiest thing they’ve heard for at least 18 months, apparently:  Continue Reading »


August 13th 2010
I didn’t wake up angry about my six-hour per week job.

Posted under book reviews & Gender & jobs & unhappy endings & women's history

Over Ten Million Served:  Gendered Service in Lanugage and Literature Workplaces is a new book edited by Michelle A. Massé and Katie J. Hogan that raises two old questions:  1) Why don’t academic workplaces value service and honor it in career advancement to the degree it should be, and 2) How is this undervaluing of service implicated in the gendering of service as feminized (and therefore volunteer/underpaid/unrewarded) carework?  A brief interview with the editors is at Inside Higher Ed today.

These conversations about service are like conversations about the weather, in that everyone talks about it all of the time but no one does anything about it.  In our current state of crisis on university faculties–with the adjunctification of the profession in the past twenty years plus our soon-to-be double-dip recession–are we likely to finally do anything about it now?  Or are we even less likely, because of the state of overall economic crisis?  My sense is that few of us feel motivated to go that “extra mile” in the face of rescissions, cutbacks, salary freezes, and even furloughs.

For those of you interested in thinking about our state of crisis in American universities more generally should see the reviews by Tenured Radical and Jesse Lemisch at New Politics of Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus.  Apparently, liberal arts professors who make $100,000 and spend only 6 hours a week in the classroom, take sabbaticals, and conduct research (the nerve!!!) are as much of the problem as running farm clubs for the NBA and the NFL and CEO-sized salaries for university presidents and other administrators.  (Does anyone ever say that football coaches only work three hours on Saturdays in the fall, because that’s when their teams play?  I never hear that for some reason, yet here we have the familiar accusation that if professors aren’t leading a class every single minute of the day, then they’re not working.)  Continue Reading »


August 12th 2010
Random thoughts on Mad Men, season 4 (so far)

Posted under American history & art & Gender & unhappy endings & wankers & women's history

Well, now that I have an i-pod and i-tunes, there’s a way to get Mad Men without subscribing to some expensive, crappy cable TV package I neither want nor need.  i-tunes sells a season pass for $20 ($30 for HD), which seems like a total bargain.  The only downside is that I have to watch the show on my computer, so Fratguy and I snuggle up in bed and balance it on our laps together.  (Too bad it’s such a completely un-sexy show!) 

Here are my thoughts so far (3 episodes in).  As the fankids say on the internets–spoiler alert: Continue Reading »


August 11th 2010
It’s Bennet v. Buck in Nov., plus no more McPlagiarist to kick around

Posted under American history & local news & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness

Well, you’ve probably heard that “Senator” Wonderbread won his primary, which means that I can no longer refer to him as never having won a vote. And it wasn’t even close!  Andrew Romanoff called to offer his congratulations less than an hour after the polls closed.  Being able to outspend your opponent by nearly 4-1 has its advantages, kids!  Oh well–the guy who is liklier to beat him in November, GOP insurgent candidate Ken Buck, also won his primary narrowly against Jane Norton.  Possible lessons of the Colorado primary?  It looks like the GOPers are more likely to favor insurgencies, whereas there’s enough Dems satisfied with their incumbents (I know–go figure!) that they’re sticking with the status quo.  (Remember, the two sitting senators to lose their primaries were Republican Bob Bennett in Utah, and Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, so we’ll count him as a half-Republican who didn’t have the confidence of Penna. Dems, and for good reason.)  Continue Reading »


August 10th 2010
“My Life in Therapy”

Posted under childhood & class & Gender & happy endings & weirdness & women's history

Some of you easterners probably saw this on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning already, but if you’ve got a spare 20 minutes and you’re so inclined, take a look at Daphne Merkin’s essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine called “My Life in Therapy.”  She writes really thoughtfully about her experience of therapy, and wonders what (after 40 years) it’s done for her.  Part of the problem, she notes, is that psychoanalysis and its offshoots tends to be an end in itself without fixed goals or an endpoint, unlike a consultation with an allopath or a dentist to fix a specific problem.  You have a toothache, or a bodily pain?  The doctor will diagnose it and make you feel better.  The psychoanalyst’s approach isn’t always diagnostic, and even when a problem is identified, what a patient should do about it isn’t always clear.  Merkin writes about going to yet another therapist.  Would this one help her?  And how would she even know if his approach was helping?

And then there was my feeling that I better not get in too deep. I was wary by this point of the alacrity with which I attached to shrinks, each and every one of them, as if I suspended my usual vigilant powers of critical judgment in their presence merely because they wore the badge of their profession. The truth of the matter was that in more than 40 years of therapy (the only person I knew who may have been at it longer than me was Woody Allen, who once offered me his own analyst), I never developed a set of criteria by which to assess the skill of a given therapist, the way you would assess a dentist or a plumber.Other than a presentable degree of intelligence and an office that didn’t set off aesthetic alarms — I tended to prefer genteelly shabby interiors to overly well-appointed ones, although I was wary of therapists who exhibited a Collyer Brothers-like inability to throw anything away — I wasn’t sure what made for a good one. I never felt entitled to look at them as members of a service profession, which is what, underneath all the crisscrossing of need and wishfulness, they essentially were. The sense of urgency that generally took me into a new shrink’s office was more conducive to seeing myself as the one being evaluated rather than the evaluator. Was I a good-enough patient? Would this latest psychiatrist (I saw mostly M.D.’s) like me and want to take me on? Or would he/she write me off as impossibly disturbed under my cloak of normalcy?

I knew I wasn’t the most promising candidate — I was, in fact, a prime example of what is referred to within the profession as a “difficult” patient, what with my clamorous ways, disregard for boundaries and serial treatments — but perhaps this time, after so many disappointments, I would get lucky. Somewhere out there, sitting in a smaller or larger office on Central Park West or the Upper East Side, tucked behind a waiting area furnished with a suitably arty poster or two, a couple of chairs and old copies of The New Yorker and National Geographic Traveler, was a practitioner who would not only understand my lifelong sorrow and anger in an empathic (but not unduly soppy) fashion but also be able to relieve me of them. Just as some people believe in the idea of soul mates, I held fast to the conviction that my perfect therapeutic match was out there. If only I looked hard enough I would find this person, and then the demons that haunted me— my love/hate relationship with my difficult mother (who has been dead now for four years), my self-torturing and intransigently avoidant attitude toward my work, my abiding sense of aloneness and seeming inability to sustain a romantic relationship and, above all, my lapses into severe depression — would become, with my therapist’s help, easier to manage.

Merkin doesn’t address gender issues in her article, but throughout I couldn’t help but see her problem as a gendered one.  Why should she feel like her therapist was someone she needed to please, someone from whom she couldn’t demand results, however modestly or vaguely defined?  Continue Reading »


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