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teaching, tenure, and academic freedom

As events continue to unfold in Wisconsin, defenses of tenure are popping up in various places. For the most part, these are focused on how weakening tenure would 1) limit academic freedom, 2) drive faculty to other universities, and 3) subject them to political reprisals.

These are all true. One only has to think about climate research, or UNC’s Poverty Center, to realize that the threat to academic freedom is very real.

What is less clear is why the public should care. Sure, some will. But lots of people believe climate science is corrupt, and that centers like UNC’s are inappropriately political. Any good defense of the public university—of tenure within it or support for it more generally—has to appeal to a broad swath of people.

I suggested the other day that the business community cares about science, and that that is one potential source of support for higher ed, at least, if not necessarily for tenure. But what the average American cares about most with regard to universities is not science, but teaching.

And here…crickets.

Clay Shirky argued at Crooked Timber that in fact professors don’t do very much teaching, and when the public learns this they will revolt. I think he sees the world too much through the lens of NYU, and that if you look at the higher ed field as a whole, there is lots of teaching going on, including by tenure-track faculty.

But where he is right is that what most people outside higher ed care about is not research, but teaching. Fortunately, there are strong arguments to be made that link tenure and teaching quality. For example, Mikaila pointed out in the comments that

performance funding initiatives which emphasize on-time graduation rates would tend to encourage a decrease in academic rigor so that students make adequate academic progress and do not fail or withdraw from courses–something we could easily achieve by giving our students open-book fill-in-the-blank tests with As for all. It is tenure which protects us from such a demand and thus tenure that gives us the best chance of ensuring that students have the opportunity to receive a high-quality, rigorous education that challenges them and helps them learn and develop the skills which will benefit them economically, socially, culturally, and personally for the rest of their lives.

These are the kinds of arguments that are likely to have traction. Not that tenure is good for professors, or things like academic freedom that a minority of people care about. But tenure is good for students.

The flip side of that is that we can’t profess that tenure helps students and then denigrate or simply neglect teaching. Nor can we go along with “I won’t grade you too hard as long as you don’t demand too much.” Nor is this position compatible with allowing the system to continue to survive on contingent labor.

I’m still working out what the ethical thing to do is as someone who is (as we all are, in one way or another) caught up in this system. One thing I’m pretty sure about, though: appealing to faculty self-interest is not a winning strategy for gaining public support.

Written by epopp

June 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

learning how to teach – are you a North Korea, Japan, Madagascar, or the US?

Do you teach like I govern Madagascar?

Is this your teaching style?

One of the most time-consuming (but big-impact*) responsibilities of an academic is teaching.  However, graduate school training for teaching can vary.  At some institutions, an academic-in-training may teach his/her own course right away.  This trial by fire approach can be all-consuming for the first course preps.

At other institutions, an academic-in-training can closely observe experienced instructors and learn tricks of the trade as a teaching assistant.  Serving as a (in Ivy Tower-speak) teaching fellow for a large, popular intro to sociology class, I learned how colleague David J. Frank introduced groupwork, cold-called names, and demonstrated how to apply various theoretical perspectives using a game he called “Stump the Professor.”  Under the mentorship of Peter V. Marsden, I learned how to grade.  Both of us scored papers independently and then compared our scores for inter-rater reliability; we then reconciled the few disparate scores after a discussion.  From Richard J. Hackman, I learned how to use stories (and humor) to illustrate phenomena, as well as how to refine lesson plans and exercises.

As a professor, I still observe colleagues’ teaching, which has introduced me to techniques for teaching student teams.  Meetings and conversations with colleagues are also opportunities to trade tips and troubleshoot scenarios.

Over the years, I’ve also read various books on teaching and followed discussion threads on teaching at the CHE forum.  A few weeks ago, I read Dan Spalding‘s recently published second edition How to Teach Adults (creative commons licensed e-book version here, yay!).  His book is an excellent guidebook to teaching, covering the gamut of how to construct lesson plans, how to deal with difficult behaviors in the classroom, and how to set up a professional identity as an educator.  Drawing on his experiences teaching English as another language to immigrants, Spalding offers handy checklists and tips that can improve the teaching experience for novice and master instructors alike.  For instance, the book discusses the concept of student comfort zones, and the author provides a handy metaphor for how students must “exercise” outside of class for the fullest benefit of education.

Spalding’s approach is thoughtfully provocative.  To wit, he compares teaching styles with governance:

Below is a list of countries and the different types of teaching they correspond
with. Which is yours?*

North Korea: A tyrannical regime led by a distant autocrat.
Classroom: A teacher who ruthlessly enforces arbitrary rules.
Japan: A corrupt democracy where most citizens still enjoy a good standard
of living.
Classroom: A bad teacher who gives everyone an ‘A.’

Madagascar: A weak state where the people live mostly independent from
the government.
Classroom: A teacher who gives suggestions to students who are free to
take or leave them.

United States: A nominal democracy where corporate interests hold almost
all power.
Classroom: A teacher who insists they listen to students but ends up doing
whatever the administration says.

*Hopefully, your class is like none of these countries!

In his final chapter, Spalding raises the larger context of the corporatization of education.  He also discusses alienation amongst students and instructors and how institutions train for certain dispositions,** followed by the call to consider the transformative possibilities of teaching.

In short, Spalding’s book systematically shares the nuts and bolts of teaching while including a critical perspective of the vocation and its associated institutions.  An insightful, must-read for educators!

*  See Fligstein’s comment about educating the public.

** Marx/Weber/your favorite theorists are sometimes not credited by the author but are recognizable.

 

Written by katherinechen

May 18, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Posted in academia, education, teaching

Tagged with

what’s really important about the arizona state mooc announcement

Arizona State has been in higher ed news a lot this week. The Atlantic just published a fairly fawning article on ASU’s partnership with Starbucks, featuring trenchant critiques of traditional colleges like, “The customer service is atrocious.”

Today, the news is ASU’s announcement that it will offer its entire freshman year online, through MOOCs. (Just when you thought they were dead!) Here’s the deal: ASU is partnering with EdX, the nonprofit Harvard-MIT collaboration, to produce the MOOCs. Students don’t have to apply, and they don’t have to pay in advance. But after they complete the class, if they decide they want college credit, they can pay ASU $300-600 (the final price is not set) and it will show up on a transcript indistinguishable from any other class.

Of course, people love to hate on ASU president Michael Crow. Dean Dad pointed out that Maricopa Community College, in ASU’s backyard, only charges $250 a credit and provides library access, among other amenities. John Warner focuses on the importance of the first year to student persistence, implying that disadvantaged students will be hurt. Jonathan Rees amps up the rhetoric, calling ASU the first “predator university.”

The Chronicle’s analysis focuses on what it sees as the catch: ASU’s MOOC students won’t be eligible for financial aid. Because students won’t officially enroll until after they’ve completed the MOOC, what they’ve learned is considered “prior knowledge,” making them ineligible for federal aid. ASU admits this is an obstacle, but suggested that “the university hoped to find some way to make aid possible in the future.”

What the Chronicle doesn’t point to, though, is where this road ultimately leads. There’s no way ASU is committing to this if it doesn’t see a pathway to federal aid down the road. Who among the underemployed folks ASU is targeting can cough up $600 to pay for a single course? That’s more than two weeks’ work at minimum wage.

And indeed, noises about how to solve this problem are already being made. Conversations are underway in the Senate about finding ways to give accreditation — and thus access to aid — to “nontraditional providers” like (drumroll…) EdX.

Truthfully, I’m not that worried about ASU and EdX. I think it’s going to prove hard to get the disadvantaged students they’re aiming for to finish MOOCs, even with financial aid, and even with ASU’s well-publicized innovations in data analytics. And I think that the nonprofit EdX, with its close ties to Harvard and MIT, is unlikely to launch a race to the bottom in extracting revenues from students.

But you know who would be happy to suck at the teat of the federal financial aid system? The edutech disruptors, who talk a good game about transforming higher education but will quickly enough start tranforming student loans into company profits once it’s time to raise the next round of venture capital.* When we have the opportunity to channel our financial aid dollars not only to the University of Phoenix but to the Disruptive EduBadge Academy, then we will have fully corrupted the system. The reason, if it needs to be spelled out, is that there is no reason to think that their courses will require learning, that pesky obstacle between them and those tantalizing financial aid dollars.

I’m not anti-technology, or anti-innovation. And I think traditional colleges are deeply flawed. But I am very, very much against expanding the money-laundering side of our financial aid system. And that is the coal mine into which the ASU-EdX canary is being lowered.

* I just Googled “silicon valley edutech” and got the San Francisco EduTech Meetup Group for — you can’t make this stuff up — “connecting folks who are passionate about the education space.”

Written by epopp

April 24, 2015 at 2:11 am

pre-doctoral symposium for management students

There is a symposium for early career management doctoral students. You should apply!

he Southern Management Association (SMA) is pleased to offer a Pre-Doctoral Consortium which will be held October 28th at the 2015 SMA Annual Meeting in St. Pete Beach, Florida.  The Consortium is designed to help those who are committed to, or seriously considering, earning a doctoral degree.  The goals of the Consortium include: (1) helping students to gain a better understanding of key factors to consider in applying to doctoral programs, and (2) to provide students with a “realistic preview” of life as a doctoral student and beyond as faculty.  We are seeking applicants and we hope that you will help us inform students who may be interested in pursuing a doctoral program

The Consortium will award $500 stipends to invited participants.  In addition, breakfast and lunch on the day of the Consortium will be provided, courtesy of SMA, and there will be a networking reception in the evening. 
 
The deadline for consortium application is June 28, 2015. All applicants must submit
(a) An application form (attached),
(b) A recommendation letter from a current or former faculty member,
(c) A copy of their vita (resume), and
(d) A photocopy of their government issued ID in order to verify that they will have attained the age of 21 on or before October 27th, 2015. 
 
Please send any questions or submit consortium registration materials electronically to Dr. Aaron Hill, Oklahoma State University, at aaron.hill@okstate.edu.
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

April 9, 2015 at 12:01 am

have an organizational paper on higher ed? send it my way

The organizational sociology of higher education is having a moment. Elizabeth Armstrong and Johanna Massé have written about it recently (and even more recently here), Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens have a new volume out on the topic (I’ll be writing more on that soon), and Amy Binder, whose work is very organizational, is chair of ASA’s generally strat-heavy Education Section.

Maybe it’s because there are so many changes going on in higher education right now that simply can’t be understood without thinking about organizations and the fields they are located within. From the Wisconsin budget cuts, to the effects of proliferating rankings, to the internationalization of universities, to the impact of organizational culture on student experience, tons of organizational questions are begging for answers.

Anyway, I’m editing a volume of Research in the Sociology of Organizations on “The University Under Pressure” with Catherine Paradeise, to be published in January 2016. We’ve got some great contributions from a trans-Atlantic group of authors including Dick Scott, Georg Krücken, Philippe Laredo, Christine Musselin, Amy Binder, Daniel Kleinman, Joe Hermanowicz, and others. And while the volume has mostly come together already, one free slot has opened up.

So if you have a paper in the works that you think makes a contribution to the organizational sociology of higher ed, send it my way. There’s some focus on comparing the U.S. and European experiences, but many of the articles look at a single country. And despite the title, it doesn’t have to be about universities: writing about community colleges from an organizational angle? Great.

The catch is that it needs to be either written already or ready for review quite soon — say, within the next month. On the plus side, if it’s accepted, you can expect it to be in print within the year. (And if it’s not, you’ll know quite soon.)

Just about all of us care about the future of the university. It’s time for organizational sociologists to do a better job of helping us understand it.

Written by epopp

March 19, 2015 at 1:58 pm

mfa program trash talk

Ryan Boundinat is a former MFA writing instructor. He has some blunt talk about MFA programs:

  • If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.
  • If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
  • If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

I may disagree with some points (e.g., he over emphasizes the “you are born to do it”), but overall, I agree with the article. The defining feature of the professional is … professionalism. For writers, that means organizing your like around books, reading books, writing books, and thinking about books. This is also true about academia. If you find your classes boring, research boring, and can’t get out of bed to do it, well, this isn’t the job for you.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!! 

Written by fabiorojas

March 12, 2015 at 12:22 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

the student debt revolt begins

I have often been a critic of the higher education system. My critique, roughly, is that the costs of college are often disconnected from the market value of the degree. Students are often left with substantial debt that may take a decade or more to pay off. Some, without proper counseling, take on the debt normally associated with buying a home. It is no longer the case that college finances are a matter of saving up some money for a few years or working it off over a few summers. Now, students can carry debt into their forties, or later, if they aren’t careful. This debt can displace other, possibly more important, forms of wealth building such as purchasing a home, financing a business, or simply saving the money.

Today, there is an effort to organize college loan debtors in an attempt to roll back this trend. The Debt Collective, an activist group, announced today that a group of fifteen volunteers will go on a debt strike. These former students all have debt acquired from their time in various for-profit colleges. I applaud this movement. But I think it needs to go farther. Why stop at for-profit colleges? It is the case that some for-profits have acted dishonestly in promising much higher wages and encouraging students to maximize loans. But many students from more traditional colleges leave with very debt loads as well and often with degrees that don’t correspond to better jobs. An excellent start and I hope to see more.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!! 

 

Written by fabiorojas

February 23, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Posted in education, fabio, the man

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