Monday, March 16, 2015

From the Crampicle: Greetings from Wisconsin, Where Higher Ed is a Love-Hate Affair

I have been trying to keep my head down and just be happy in my work, work that I love and that I
find fulfilling on an emotional level, if not necessarily a financial one.

My state system is fucked. Without so much as a by-your-leave, our budget has been slashed--AGAIN--with only the paltry, total bullshit offer of some kind of magical "public authority" that will somehow allow us to avoid further showdowns with the state legislature over tenure and shared governance.

Today, the Crampicle takes us all to my state, and if you want to know what's coming down the pike for you in a red state atmosphere, here's all the flava you need:

"Several people who called themselves concerned taxpayers here didn’t seem to understand that faculty members help their institution in many ways, like bringing in research grants or mentoring graduate students. Others, who understood the complexity of the job just fine, nonetheless thought professors spend too little time with undergraduates.

Over at Anthony’s Steakhouse, in Lake Geneva, members of the Republican Party of Walworth County gathered for a monthly meeting. Afterward, James Loftus, a retired chiropractor, told me too many professors spend too much time on inconsequential scholarship that their universities overvalue. "They say they have to do all this research — that is bull," he said. "They’re supposed to be educating our students."

A moment later, the mother of a freshman at UW-Madison said her son was struggling because he often couldn’t understand what professors and teaching assistants from other countries were saying. "I know it’s not politically correct to talk about," she added.

The angriest person I spoke to was the restaurant’s owner, George Condos. Decades ago, he attended Wisconsin’s Oshkosh campus but did not earn a degree. He had to help his late father, Anthony, run this place, where these days the king-size filet mignon goes for $36.95.

After seating a couple for a late dinner on a frigid night, Mr. Condos told me a story: His youngest son, a junior at one of UW’s four-year campuses, had received low grades on several assignments because his conclusions didn’t square with the political views of his professors. "I’m trying to keep him from being indoctrinated by these liberal-spewing pieces of puke," he said. "I want to yank him out of there."

Here's the rest:

FWIW, Like all of my colleagues in our part of the System, I teach only undergraduates, a 4/4 load, and I do a lot of campus service, plus professional development like writing stuff that gets published but nobody reads, which isn't necessarily my fault, since I didn't know Twitter was where it's at (don't click this link unless you've been drinking first). But the tea-partying taxpayers don't seem to get that, which is why the op-eds in the local papers are full of this kind of stuff.

A really good blog you should be reading if you're interested in what's happening--and the way the professoriate is perceived by those in power here--is Chuck Rybak's "Fresh"--humor: black, blacker, blackest.

Back to grading exams and being an overpaid lazy liberal d-bag.

/Chrome out


  1. That was a good reason to start drinking earlier than usual.

    If you really want to piss some of those people interviewed off, show them how Stommel wants his tweets to count towards tenure. You'd be picking bits of brain off the walls of Anthony's Steakhouse for weeks.

    1. NO! Don't show them, or soon Faux News will be telling everyone that's all we do....

  2. His youngest son, a junior at one of UW’s four-year campuses, had received low grades on several assignments because his conclusions didn’t square with the political views of his professors.

    That's bad reporting. This is the father's allegation based on the son's allegation, phrased as fact.

    From: the article: "I’m trying to keep him from being indoctrinated by these liberal-spewing pieces of puke," he said. "I want to yank him out of there."

    When I asked Mr. Condos if his son was unhappy on the campus, he shook his head: "No, he likes it."

    Gee, dad, I think we know what you're really afraid of: that your son is beginning to see you for who you are. He's not buying your David Horowitz schtick.

  3. Wisconsin is dead.

    I graduated from Madison. My former professors are fleeing. My connections there are all giving up. But I think this is more than just Walker's terrible tyranny. Higher education is going to change fundamentally over the next 80 years. Some high eds will die because of asshole governors and ignorant fearmongers like those interviewed for this piece. But the rest will be taken out as training actually takes the form of training for future jobs. This is going to change all of our jobs. Every single one of us is going to have to change out job in the next few decades. It's going to happen. How will we cope?

  4. I find myself somewhat torn. Of course I deplore what Walker is doing, and disagree with the great majority of what those who support him say about what's wrong with higher ed.

    But. . . .like Chrome, I'm in a 4/4 teaching-intensive position (unlike Chrome, I'm not tenured, or even on the tenure track; on the other hand, for better or for worse, I don't have to somehow juggle service and research with said 4/4 load. And I'm in a system that is -- for the moment, at least -- at least marginally more functional than Wisconsin's. I'm honestly not sure which of us has the "better" job; each has its own particular misery). On the one hand, I absolutely agree with those who argue that research both serves the larger good and supports teaching (if there is no new knowledge, what will we teach? And if we've forgotten how knowledge is made, how will we help the students understand that process, which is really all you can learn in college that lasts, since the current scholarly consensus will inevitably change (though the speed depends a bit on the disicpline)?), and that funded research benefits universities (though it also costs them money above and beyond what overhead covers, and sometimes creates ethical quandaries). On the other hand, I also agree with those who argue that, nationwide, more professors need to be spending more time with undergraduates (but/and not in large lecture halls -- the most "efficient" method of teaching). We seem to have reached a point where every R2 wants to be an R1, and many state-funded colleges want to be universities (the only exception to this pattern is the community colleges; maybe it's not surprising that students are flocking to those in ever-increasing numbers). If you obey the well-worn adage to "follow the money," you'll find that undergraduate teaching -- the activity, the people who do it, the forms of instruction that allow it to be done well -- really isn't valued at most institutions (even, by some measures, the ccs). Students (and parents) who complain that their tuition dollars (and the few tax dollars that still go to higher ed) are being diverted to support activities other than basic undergraduate education are absolutely right.

    I'm not sure what the answer is, but part of the answer has to be not only for the states to reinvest in higher ed, but for higher ed institutions to reinvest in undergraduate teaching, and the people who are on the front lines of teaching the most basic, most challenging courses.

    At the same time, we need to get better at articulating exactly how our research serves the greater good, and feeds our teaching. Otherwise, research may become for any remaining tenure-track faculty what is already is for those of us in the contingent corps: an expensive hobby with little to no formal connection to our paid professional lives.

    And all of the above feeds the (sometimes justified) temptation to point critics in the direction of a burgeoning, and (at least in some cases) overpaid administrative corps as the source of the problem. But I fear there aren't actually enough overpaid administrators whose duties consist solely of demanding unnecessary "assessment" numbers from overworked faculty to make up the difference (though I certainly wish it were that simple, and I'll happily point critics in the direction of growing administration as the most easily identifiable source of rising tuitions in a time of stagnant or falling professorial pay).

  5. What Cassandra said.

    This is also why I think Stommel and his friends are, in fact, our problem. They lend credence to the argument that research is pointless. Whatever he thinks he's doing when he twits about how he wishes tweeter were part of his tenure docket, he's really throwing gasoline on the fire right there at ground zero of the Walker-wars. Anybody want to take bets on when he gets name-checked in the legislature as an example of waste-fraud-abuse at Madison? And would you really be able to defend him at that point?

    Since I'm also an unrepentant cynic, I actually think that ratcheting up research expectations at R2s actually makes things worse for everyone. If the message to what remains of the tenure-track faculty is that research is what matters, it further justifies resorting to underpaid adjunct labor for those unimportant classes. If the cool leftists on twitter really wanted to help adjunct-nation, they wouldn't be wishing for their tweeter-musings to count as research. They'd be demanding that teaching be a meaningfully weighted component of the tenure docket t every institution in North America. Until that happens, the little right-wing dickweeds in the article have a plausible case, and the admin's drive to cut cost through adjunctery is justified.

    Up here in the rarefied reaches of R1-land I've been in meetings where we've tenured people who are demonstrably incompetent in the classroom because they've met the publishing benchmarks for promotion. So long as we keep doing that, we are in a weak position when responding to the critics.

    1. Cogently argued. I agree 100%. The team will be visiting you shortly for your first of several sessions of "reprogramming." And then I'm probably next.

  6. I agree too, but I still think Burnt Chrome is in the epicenter of college misery.