Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why I Have a Big Problem with James Wetherbe’s Libertarian Fantasies about Tenure

Dear Jim,

You seem to have drunk some pretty heady Kool-Aid there my friend.  Tenure, The First Amendment, Corporations, Lawsuits, Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my.  Where do I even begin? 

Maybe I’ll start with your consumer model of universities.  When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and when you have a business degree, everything looks like a widget factory.  You talk about the need to serve the customers, but I’m not sure you really know who a university’s customers are.  It’s not just the students, it’s society.  I’m still trying to get my head around your comment about the socialistic monopoly on issuing driver’s licenses and all the inefficiencies it creates.  Are you seriously proposing that we have an open market system for driver’s licenses?  For realz?  If you’re willing to float a wild idea like that, you might want to reconsider the protections of tenure.  I mean what could possibly go wrong?  Let’s just open up Cletus’s house of driver’s licensing and smoked meat emporium.  If they can dish out the certifications faster “provide better service” than the DMV, why shouldn’t “Cletus’ Certified Car Chits” carry just as much weight as the official government certifications? 

Well, I can think of several reasons, and your DMV analogy offers a pretty good parallel to education.  Sure I hate going down to deal with the DMV.  Who doesn’t?  But the customer at the DMV isn’t the guy who wants to get his registration renewed.  It’s the rest of us who have to walk down the same streets, and would like some assurance that the cars zooming by have functioning brakes and steering columns.  That they are piloted by sentient beings who have a vague notion what a turn signal is, and don’t think “Yield to oncoming traffic” is a measure of their stock portfolio.  That they meet some kind of air quality standard that won’t poison us with lead fumes.  Government doesn’t set these rules just to be a pain in the ass (well, not just to be a pain in the ass).  It sets these rules because a democratic society benefits.

If you think the DMV is just a monopoly on issuing pieces of paper that say ‘Driver’s licence”, then it’s not really surprising that you view colleges and universities as customer service centers whose job is to hand out pieces of paper that say “Degree”.  Wrong again.  Universities should serve the greater good of society broadly.  They are one of the foundational institutions of a democracy (you like democracy don’t you, Jim?).  When they work properly, universities provide an unbiased source of information and analysis that serve to inform societal debate and decision making.  The student isn’t the only one who benefits.  Everyone benefits when citizens can tell their gluteus from their olecranon.  So when some university I’ve never been to teaches some student I’ve never met to be, say, an engineer, I benefit.  You benefit.  We all benefit (whether or not we all scream for ice cream) because we can drive over bridges and ride in elevators without worrying that the damn things will plummet to earth.  Universities are a public good, and this role is inconsistent with the need to shill for customers like a used car lot. 

Speaking of public goods, Jim, you really ought to re-read the judge’s decision in your own case.  Here’s a line I might draw to your attention:
"[your case is] of political and social interest in any community because education is a social good and public universities are financed, in large part, by tax monies."  
I’ve highlighted the key section in case you missed it.  The irony is delicious, no?  Your right to proceed with your lawsuit is predicated explicitly on education being not just a bidness transaction, but a social good for the wider community.  So if you proceed with your lawsuit, don’t you in good faith have to abandon your consumer model of education?

It’s not that I don’t see the abuses of tenure Jim.  I mean hell, have you read College Misery?  If we’re not going on about the snowflakes in the classrooms, we’re bemoaning the yutz down the hall who couldn’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag, and flakes out on their committee assignments.  But here again, your position is incoherent.  You seem to think that if something gets abused now and then, we should eliminate it.  You claim that the First Amendment is “all the protection you need.”  What a noble sentiment – has that All-American, “happiness is a warm gun”, wild west vibe.  And after all, constitutional protections never get abused do they?  Well, OK, maybe they do.  So by your reasoning, then because constitutional rights sometimes get abused, maybe you should just eliminate the constitution too while you’re about it.  Or is it just tenure that you don't like?

And remember, Jim, in this society, everyone gets all the justice they can afford.  Do you think every prof just has lawyer cash lying around?  Do you really think every academic will ‘speak truth to power’ when it costs tens of thousands to defend that right?  Where did you get your lawyer money again? 
“And last year, Bobby G. Stevenson, co-founder of Ciber Inc., an information-technology company that has had Mr. Wetherbe on its board, rescinded at least $9-million in gifts to Texas Tech to protest how the dean search was conducted.”
No that wasn’t leverage, of course not.  What it does say though, is that you have backers with deep pockets (or deep pockets yourself).  You have corporate connections (you sat on their damn board) with the resources to litigate.  How’s that going to play out for, say, an early career history prof, with two young children to support, when she gets a SLAPP suit over her finding that some powerful university trustee has ancestors involved in (insert unsavoury historical event).  How much “First Amendment Protection™” can she count on?

Which leads me to my last point, Jim, and I have to say you really tip your hand with this one.
“The inability to easily reduce the expense of non-performing teaching staff is costing business schools dearly.”
It’s all about the Benjaminz isn’t it?  You (and your deep pocketed friends) want to reduce the university’s costs – specifically faculty salaries.  You like to fire people.  So does Mitt Romney.  And Donald Trump for that matter, so you’re in good company there.  Sure, sure you only want to eliminate the “non-performing” faculty.  As defined by whom?  Some adminflake with a sheet of ‘performance metrics’ and an axe to grind?  Someone who doesn’t like being told that their so called “more effective but radically different teaching methods” are really just a bunch of edubabble buzzwords, that aren’t worth a pack of alpaca poop?  You want the power to tell someone who devoted their life to mastery of a valuable field that their work is no longer sexy, or “aligned with the priorities of the institution”.  Perhaps you could explain to us how these further impoverished faculty will pay for access to “First Amendment protections™” to fight the whims of these assessments? 

And you want to go even further.  You want to “prove that tenure is, ultimately, an unnecessary burden on higher education.”  Be careful that you don’t get used as the Trojan horse for your corporate chums.  If you win your lawsuit, no sooner will you be wheeled into the Dean’s office, than your backers will burst out of your belly like the creatures in Alien and begin sacking and pillaging. 

I could go on, but I should probably wrap this up.  You have big bucks and backers with even bigger bucks.  You think everyone should manage their lives like little corporations.  You think everyone should be measured by their impact on the bottom line. You think universities serve only customers who pay tuition or supply research grants and the goal is to give them what they want.  And you're upset that some tenured proffies at Idaho State were condescending to you back in the day.  For this you're going to throw a bomb (metaphorical of course) into scholarship.

I have a big problem with that, Jim.  But I think I have a solution.

If tenure is bad for business schools, why don’t business schools leave the universities?  You can open up the Ferengi Academy of Acquisition in a strip mall on the outskirts of Lubbock and charge whatever the market will bear.  If you really do have a model under which business schools will thrive, the market will reward you.  And I promise that the sciences and humanities will put aside their differences and unite to throw you one whale of a going away party.

You’re Welcome.

I remain etc.
Rosencrantz A. Guildenstern
Department of Hamster Husbandry
Universityof Tuktoyaktuk


  1. I vote POW.

    This is the most cogent response to Wetherbe's idiocy that I've yet seen.

  2. R & G, this was an entertaining and interesting response. As I said in the other recent comment thread about this topic, I am sympathetic to the arguments against tenure but still, this was a good post.

    I found this statement by Wetherbe worth pointing out. "For the record, I have never heard a newly tenured professor celebrate: 'Now it is safe to express all those controversial ideas I have been repressing.'"

    Just because we're not hunting for communists in academia anymore doesn't mean that no topics are off-limits. See how much a school without tenure will support a faculty member whose research shows evidence to support the hypothesis that ...

    children fare worse when adopted by gay couples compared to heterosexual couples,
    genetic differences due to gender, race, etc contribute in a statistically significant difference in the performance of a task, or
    terrorism against the United States can be morally justified based on values derived from Western/Judeo-Christian ethics.

    This concern is especially true if the research is good but not air-tight. The accusations of sexism, racism, homophobia or lack of patriotism can be a PR nightmare for the school. Pressure from advocacy groups can be too much for an administration. Tenure protects the school in a sense by giving administrators a way to save face - they professor has tenure so there's nothing they can do. Without tenure, the pressure to get rid of the faculty member would be even greater since the advocacy groups would sense that they have a greater chance to win the fight. Universities would cave in the same way that other businesses give in to unreasonable demands of these groups.

    1. I agree that tenure protects the right to ask unpopular questions (depending on context, unpopular with the right, the left, or both). We won't really know just how important a role such protection plays until tenure is gone (and sadly, I think it probably will be gone within a generation or two).

      However, I think tenure is even more important in protecting faculty's right to speak about what's going on inside the institution, either within the institution itself, or in the larger community. And that, too, is under threat; see, for instance, Chicago State's recent efforts to shut down a faculty blog (they used a trademark-infringement approach, but I suspect that was just what came to hand. This kind of speech is tremendously important, since faculty need to be able, when necessary, to speak up about everything from idiotic curricular reforms to the real effect of budget cuts to the role that money from big pharma, big textbook publishers, and big donors of various stripes often plays in shaping both research and policy.

      Finally, I'd argue that tenure protects non-controversial, non-sexy basic research, the kind that doesn't pull in big grants in part because it doesn't produce splashy or quick results. Much basic science falls in this category, as does various sorts of archival/editing/collecting work in the humanities. There's a lot of good work being done by tenured professors who are "stuck at associate," but doing huge amounts of important, non-glamorous research work (as well as much of the teaching and service their star colleagues are "too busy" to bother with). They're precisely the ones who would be most vulnerable, in a non-tenure system, to being seen as not worth the modestly higher salary their experience brings, or at least to being told that their research is off the clock, a hobby (in fact, this is a pretty good description of the position of many contingent faculty today).

    2. I often wonder what value faculty really bring to criticizing university policy. Faculty are pretty smart but not often in areas that relate running a university (business faculty excluded). I see the faculty governance as being the least important victim of tenure loss. I've served in my school's senate and seen them support some pretty dumb, impractical ideas that the administration rightfully brushes off.

      The ability to openly criticize superiors is pretty unusual in an organization. You could argue that universities are better managed because faculty can freely raise strong objections but really, do you think universities are well managed? I don't. Granted, it's a nice job perk but I'm not sure it provides much value.

      OTOH, we don't have to think about a university as a business in which the boss is always right. It's also a community. Students live there, after all, and faculty and staff work amongst them. From that perspective, members of the community should be able to openly criticize the community leaders.

      As a scientist, I can provide my perspective of tenure's effect on research. Flashy results are nice but funding and publications are really all that matters at an R1. Smaller schools like publications too but they also want faculty who involve students in the research process as an educational experience. If research is not controversial then I don't think tenure has much value in science research (unless you're not doing any research).

    3. I think that what makes an independent academia valuable is that it is insulated from the fear that a line of inquiry might not "produce". This is not covered by the First Amendment or other free speech protections. Market forces have not always been good for research, a lot of which is plodding, but valuable as Cassandra points out.

      I too have always felt uncomfortable with the line that "nobody ever says 'now I'm free to be controversial' after tenure". But I am willing to undertake a less 'safe' approach to research now that I have tenure. That doesn't mean I'm swinging for the fences, with wild projects. Just that I'm pursuing research more in the way that makes scientific sense to me than in a way calculated to please granting agencies or look good on my CV. Of course I may not wind up getting grants renewed (and the grants are lot like Weatherbe's rolling contracts) if my research turns out the be a dead end. But I can afford to take that chance because at least I'd still have a teaching gig to pay the bills. Of course, I should still be expected to actually, you know, *work* at that gig.

  3. Sheer genius....RA/OG should get the Lenin Prize for this!

  4. Bravo!!!! Bravo!!!! Bravo!!!! I, too, vote POW.

    I also agree with Burntchrome that this is the best-argued response I've seen (while also being very funny. I especially liked the hammer/nail MBA/widget factory analogy, and "happiness is a warm gun" -- I had that book! Well, the puppy version).

  5. Anyone else thing the pic looks more than a little Scientology-ish?

  6. Are you seriously proposing that we have an open market system for driver’s licenses? For realz?

    We have an open-market system for rating the safety of electric devices. Underwriter's Laboratories has been doing that since 1894.

    We have an open-market system for certifying foods as kosher, too.

    There is no reason why a driver's license has to be issued by a state government. An insurance company could do it just as well, and would have a direct financial interest in doing the job well--which is not a guarantee that it would do the job well, but you don't have that guarantee with government either. However, insurance companies have competitors, and governments do not, since they have a legal authorization to resort to force against those seeking to set up a competing government.

    The government does not need to be in the business of educating people, any more than the government provides us with food and housing and cars. If we, as a society, decide that the government ought to subsidize people who have difficulty acquiring food, shelter, water, transportation, electricity and education then certainly we can do that, but the government does not need to be the direct provider of any of them.

    1. I am very bothered by that "are you sreiously...for realz" coming from an academic. It signifies a contempt for even the most perfunctory level of engaging in ideas. It signifies a refusal to give another point of view even the minimal courtesy of bothering to find out what it is based on and where it comes from. This is the antithesis of the critical thinking universities claim to promote.

    2. How did you feel about "a pack of alpaca poop"?

      Would it surprise you to learn that I started writing this blog post a year ago, when we first posted about Weatherbe here on CM. But I couldn't think it through fast enough and it faded from the front page, so I put it aside. When the topic came up again the other day, I read all the linked articles, and updated the post with eplicit links citing the points I was criticizing. So I've thought carefully about the ideas and I wrote my post to respond to those ideas.

      It is my considered opinion that the ideas are Libertarian Fantasies.

      The claim that governments don't have competition doesn't stand up to even a cursory look at an election - for all the flaws of elections, governing parties are competed against by other parties, and answerable to an electorate rather than to a board of shareholders.

      We can legitimately debate which functions governments might contract out, but there are many fields that governments do need to be in because they are public goods. As such, they need protections from pure market forces, but this does not make them the "socialistic monopoly" that Weatherbe spoke of in the piece I linked.

      I haven't had time to thoroughly research UL, but a quick google (note that I am considering and addressing your ideas) search leads me to understand that they describe themselves as a not for profit company. Your own comment points out that they have held the contract for over a century. Yet you describe this as an "open market" - this phrase you use, I don't think it means what you think it means. And I suspect (though I haven't had time to verify) that UL has a very tightly written contract with the government.

      The open markets I would like to avoid for many services are the one's like the credit rating agencies. They are (I think still) paid by the securities which they were rating, and the way to keep the customers happy was to issue good ratings (cf grade inflation). This is very much the kind of open market I do not want to see adopted in drivers licensing.

      If society wants to have certain public goods then society is going to have to support them and that means through a democratic government. What we as a society have to decide is not about subsidies, but about whether a viable democracy depends on certain institutions having independence - both from political pressures and from markets. We can all agree (I hope!) that the judiciary is one such institution. We work very hard to protect the press from political pressure, but have done a terrible job of protecting it from market influences. Debates over tenure are about whether society wants to have independent scholarship.

      I'm sorry if I have failed to address your ideas.

    3. A little more googling turns up that Underwriters Laboratories was non profit until Jan 2012, when they switched to a for-profit company. We'll have to wait and see how that works out, but I very much hope the government has them under tight oversight.

    4. I have a problem with the notion that there is *a* way academics are supposed to act, think, react, argue, etc. Does anyone know how many academics there are, just even in this country?

      It's impossible to paint with a broad enough brush. We all act, think, react, etc. differently. And yes, critical thinking is part of it. Using "for realz," however, doesn't negate anything else in the post.

    5. First, RAOG, you assume they are MY ideas, merely because I stated them in a way that a libertarian agreed was fair. That's a bad sign already. I do not have to believe in something myself to state its premises and arguments fairly.

      Second, your reply shows that you know pretty much nothing about UL or what it does, and you were not bothered to find anything out.

      They are not given a "contract" for what they do by the government. The government does not require products to carry the UL certification. UL is one of a group of independent laboratories that are recognized by OSHA as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories, so UL has competitors. UL, as its name suggests, was originally developed to benefit insurance companies, who didn't want to pay for the fires caused by crappy electrical devices.

      Returning to driver's licenses, all states requires, AFIK, that drivers carry liability and personal injury insurance. An insurance company has a financial interest in making sure that the drivers that carry its policies know how to drive. They have the resources and the expertise to do their own testing and certification of drivers, just like they do their own lipid panel on you when you buy life insurance. An insurance company that certified bad drivers would go broke in short order, its drivers would get into too many accidents. Their actuaries would advise them to either improve the test or to raise premiums, which could price them out of the market.

      An insurance company has a direct financial interest in insuring only the best drivers, which is why every state has a "high-risk pool" for people with very bad records, and people in this pool get reamed by premiums, because insurance companies do not want to insure them and would not if they were not forced to.

      However, the government has kindly assumed the burden of testing and licensing drivers, which is a sweet bit of corporate welfare for these big companies that can certainly afford their own testing.

      I find in academics of my acquaintance that their knowledge is deep but narrow, and that outside their specialization they rely on the same caricatures and stereotypes that people less educated rely on. But people without Ph. D.s rarely plume themselves on their critical thinking skills. I see precious little critical thinking in the academy.

    6. Let me hasten to include myself in my criticism. As a physicist I am prone to the disease of assuming that I can just hop into some other field and make constructive suggestions without any sort of knowledge of what's been done in that discipline. However, I am aware of it and on guard against it, after having foolishly shot my mouth off a few times.

      If you want to know what libertarians think, you need to seek them out and find out what they say for themselves. You will find that arguments such as yours were addressed back in the 1840s and that libertarians are familiar with them to the point of nausea--and you will find that you are unfamiliar with, and unprepared to argue against, their answers.

      There are very cogent criticisms of libertarian ideas to be made. In order to do that, you must engage them, and not merely snark.

    7. The author is arguing against a specific figure, James Wetherbe, and has engaged several of his points with quotes and links. I fail to see how this is mere snark.

    8. I happily stand corrected about Underwriters Laboratories, though in fairness, I did say I was working off a quick google search as I responded. I goofed in thinking that they contracted by the government. Instead, they seem analogous to the way some states contract out safety or emissions tests to private auto repair shops - I think California does it this way for example. Checking OSHA's website, UL comes under their "(NRTL) Program. Many of OSHA's workplace standards require certain equipment or products to be approved (i.e., tested and certified) by NRTLs". So I still maintain that the government is acting to protect public safety in a way that the open market alone would not.

      I'm afraid I don't share your faith in open-market insurance companies as guarantors of public safety. Their aim is to maximize revenue and minimize expenses. Sometimes this aligns with the public good, but there is no guarantee of that. I can't see what motive insurance companies would have to enforce emissions standards for example.

      What does any of this have to do with tenure? My contention is that universities are one of the institutions in democratic society that should serve the public good rather than individual private enterprises. Such institutions, like the independent judiciary, free press and probably some others, won't function well without some protections from both political and market pressures. So Wetherbe's arguments that tenure is bad for business and the first amendment is all the academic freedom he needs don't hold much water. I think I'm qualified to hold and defend that view even if I haven't read the 19th century fore-runners of the Austrian school.

      But I see our bickering has woken up Walter, so I'll leave it there.

    9. I'm afraid I don't share your faith in open-market insurance companies as guarantors of public safety.

      Leaving aside that you didn't address any point I made on that topic, just dismissed it, the bigger problem here is that you persist in assuming I believe in something merely because I can defend it. This is the antithesis of the critical thinking that is supposedly something that universities promote and one of the arguments they make for their social utility.

      The only reason I brought this up is because you made dismissive remarks that indicated you had put essentially no time in considering the the position you were attacking; that you had not bothered to find out what these people say for themselves about what they think. And you did the very same for what I said about insurance companies licensing drivers--you dismissed it without bothering to engage it.

      Insurance companies DO in fact play a huge role in public safety. Every time an institution refuses to do something for liability reasons, it is because their insurance doesn't cover it. It does not matter if the activity is perfectly legal. I am not astounded that you are ignorant of this, but I am astounded that you are not interested in finding out any more about it when doing so would require reexamining some of your ideas. An academic, I think, should be willing to do this--

      --and this brings us right back to what is tenure for? My experience in the academy is that it is a multi-year process for weeding out anyone who doesn't conform with those already there. I'm not seeing a lot of bold and risky examination of ideas. I'm seeing deep and narrow specialists who get their knowledge of everything else from the same caricatures and cartoons prevalent in the general population.

    10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Listen, I go way back to the goon old days. Is there anyone out there who thinks it's insane that this blog is hosting a conversation like this?

    I know CM has changed and all, but this shit is crazzy. Is this what the founders in Ogden want? Seriously?

    It's not my blog; just wondering.

    1. It is sometimes like it was but it seems increasingly to skew a lot more serious. The mail bears that out. I got two emails this week about profanity on the site. I answered them both with: are you fucking kidding? They were not.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Well, sometimes you go to a fight and a hockey game (or perhaps, in this case, a chess game, or a cricket match, or something else similarly slow-moving and cerebral) breaks out. The post did start as a pretty standard CM genre: smackdown (unusually well-thought out, carefully-sourced smackdown, but smackdown nonetheless).

    4. Guess there's some unwritten rules in this community of which, being new, I have had to stumble over in order to find them out. Hiram and Walter had better alert the moderators, if they haven't already, that someone here is posting things that they find boring and not fun and they don't agree with. Maybe the moderators will make another front page post about the email they've been getting about the situation, and new people like myself will find it easier to stay in their place in the future.

    5. First of all you're not new and you know what I mean. But Walter didn't break and blog rules. Hiram did and I'm deleting his comment in accordance with the rules.

      Please stick around. I couldn't moderate the page today until just now and it apologize.

    6. Typed on my fucking phone. Errors are mine. Sorry.

    7. There's no apologies due to me, Hiram was annoyed but not abusive, I'd have asked to let his comments stay. If I don't like what people say about what I write I can either stop reading what they say about it or write things they do like.

    8. I wish someone like Flamen ran the page. In the past few days it's been a lot more on point, a lot more about the real issues of academia, not run over by a bunch of Neanderthals talking about TV and music and their snowflakes who mostly sound like students who just want answers.

      Is there any program that would allow different people to run the page? Because I think I'd like to do it, and I think Flamen would be good at it as well. We should try to cover the most important issues in a more serious way.

    9. Flamen, my deleting Hiram's post had nothing to do with your reaction to it. I did it because it's within the rules of misery, which are in the sidebar of this page.

      I'm annoyed that someone who has been around as long as you are still actually thinks there are "unwritten rules" for the page. That means that Fab before me and I have not done a very good job of things here, and that's something that needs to be remedied going forward.

      Thank you for your comments.

    10. Flamen Portunalis. That's awfully shitty of you to call me out as a tattler. If there's anything that's known about me on this blog (and the other) over the past 8 years, is that I'm not a shrinking violet or a wallflower.

      So, bypassing that cattiness, let me say that I am not offended or ashamed to admit that I think the fucking page should be entertaining. If this is going to be an academic venture, then it's not at all what I have signed up for.

      I thought the debate about Mr. Weatherbee from Riverdale High was okay, but when you had to continue teaching the last person on the planet still listening to you, then I admit I noticed that the page had devolved into every fucking awful college meeting I've ever been in.

      And that, is not what this page has been, and I felt "okay" noting it.

      I mean, you were telling us how we should argue, because, after all, we're academics. I'm an adult. I'm full grown. I don't want you or anyone to tell me how to argue, react, etc. You run your life and I'll run mine. If anything in this thread was offensive, it was your pettifoggery.

      Anyway, Hiram's a decent fellow and if he broke a rule, then I have no problem with Les zapping it.

      And I seen you on this page for at least three months. I would be surprised if any of this - or the mystery of the page - is still unclear to you.


    11. I apologize, absolutely, without reservation. I was an asshole. Sorry to Flamen and Les who had to clean up after me.

      I have been increasingly frustrated with the blog and I took it out on Flamen. I will do my best not to do it again.

    12. I'm so impressed with the apologies. I want to apologize, too.

    13. I'm really not seeing that 3 months / 8 years doesn't make me "new". There's blog communities I've contributed to for 8 years and I certainly wouldn't think 3 months was enough to figure everything out about them.

      "Unwritten rules" seems to be a shorthand for something I'm not quite sure because I haven't been here that long, and perhaps I ought not to have phrased it that way because of connotations I'm not aware of. One thing I have noticed in my time here is what I will call "undercurrents". There's what's posted to the comments, the surface which we all can read, and then there appear to be email exchanges with the moderators which sometimes they have felt they needed to address on the front page and which we can't all be privy to but nonetheless seem important for us all to know about.

      This is new to me on the interwebs. The places I go are generally VERY lightly moderated and I've never caught any hint of anything discussed anywhere except out in the open in the comments. This is a very different sort of community from what I am used to. Maybe because it is nearly all academics, or maybe because of its origin. I don't know, because, like I said, I feel myself to be new here. I suspect its because so many of the original folk dropped away, and maybe new people aren't fitting in well and have a high turnover, so there's a big gap between people who've been here from the beginning and a population of short-timers--much like academia in other words. Just a hypothesis.

      I haven't seen this place be anything other than what it has been the last three months; this is what I have signed up for and whatever the page becomes over the next three months will be what someone starting out THEN has signed up for. I plead with the veterans here for their patience while I figure out if this is the sort of place where I might fit in.

      Thanks to Hiram for his apology.

    14. Flamen,

      Hi. I'm Leslie K, the current moderator. In the time this blog has been running, about 3 years, I'm the second longest tenured moderator. The page was started by Fab Sun after RateYourStudents closed down. (That blog supplied a huge number of early CM users.)

      Anyway, to answer a couple of your points. We get about 5000 views a day, and you've already seen how few people are active on the page. That means there are "others" in fact we CALL them the "others," who are community members, and, who for the life of this blog, have been a big part of the experience for the different moderators who have run the page. I know Fab did, and I feel as well that some of the "others" are as well known to the mods as anyone who's active in the public area of the page. Because of the nature of the smackdown here, there just happens to be a number of folks who don't post openly, but instead reach out to the people who run the page privately. I've long run a blog in a different area, and my experience has been like yours - I've not seen anything quite like this.

      But, since Fab has always done it, I continue to make their voices heard in a sort of protected way. I do this in these posts, that yes, they go on the front page of the blog. (Of course EVERYTHING starts on the front page, Flamen...LOL.)

      As for whether the page is moderated too much or too little, I follow the rules of the guy who started the blog. This will always be Fab Sun's blog. He had his own reasons for wanting us to find a way to be spirited but without attacking community members, and despite the occasional error, I've always tried to follow the guidelines he built. (The rules are here, by the way, if you're interested.)

      I wish Sunday had been a little smoother for all involved. I think Ra/oG wrote a truly great piece, and unfortunately the comments took a little detour into the often traveled area of the map we call "Why is this blog so fucked up, and who is to blame for it?!?"

      Finally, I am always stunned when serious academic material gets discussed here. It would never occur to me to bring something like that to this group. I guess I'm like Walter in that I think of this as pure entertainment, and a dollop of refreshing sentimentality (like Yaro).

      It's remarkable the kind of support members give each other, which is one of the reasons why Fab's rule about attacking community members is always going to be one I protect.

      It's late on Sunday and I have a shitpile to do tomorrow, but I hope to see you here again.

      Leslie K

    15. That clears a lot of things up, Leslie, thanks.

      I'll try harder in the future to figure out what sorts ideas, opinions, and commentary are welcomed and which are not.

  8. I was on faculty with Jim for a year. I liked the man. On the other hand, we never discussed any of this stuff.

  9. This is one of those cases where I wish the blog had the ability to "bump" to the top topics that are still active. This one is about to vanish from page one, and then it will be as good as gone. I haven't had time lately to compose a comment that would do the topic justice (maybe save it for my own inactive blog), but mainly as a note to myself I agree with the comments:

    "Tenure is even more important in protecting faculty's right to speak about what's going on inside the institution, either within the institution itself, or in the larger community." (Cassandra)

    "Tenure protects the right to ask unpopular questions (depending on context, unpopular with the right, the left, or both)" (Cassandra). This is more of an issue in the Humanities.

    "Tenure protects non-controversial, non-sexy basic research, the kind that doesn't pull in big grants in part because it doesn't produce splashy or quick results. Much basic science falls in this category" (Cassandra)

    This is especially the case in mathematics, where projects that amount to real discoveries are high-risk and long maturation ones (Think Andrew Wiles-Fermat's Problem-or Grisha Perelman-Poincare's conjecture). Of course, only very few research mathematicians are at that level, but you need an army of "lesser people" to build, over time, the scientific context in which their work makes sense. Most active research mathematicians do not have a research grant, due to NSF's determinedly elitist policies.

    I disagree with the comment:
    "I often wonder what value faculty really bring to criticizing university policy." (Ben)
    This can be read as belittling the idea of "shared governance". University administrators have, on average, no better understanding of any aspect of the enterprise than an experienced faculty member, yet they often behave as if this were the case. My Provost espouses many wrongheaded policies (and treats faculty like shit) so it is important that I have the right to criticize my admins not only anonymously here, but also in official university documents under my name (as I do), without fear of losing my job on that account. (At least not instantaneously, it will take some work). But Ben himself seems to acknowledge this important way Academia is different, due to tenure:

    "We don't have to think about a university as a business in which the boss is always right. (...) Members of the community should be able to openly criticize the community leaders."

    Really, fuck the business mentality, the consumerist/libertarian approach to higher ed already. This is destroying American universities, and the process is accelerating in part because tenured faculty (like myself) do not organize and protest against this.

    As stated above, I also agree with this important point made by RCAOG:

    "I think that what makes an independent academia valuable is that it is insulated from the fear that a line of inquiry might not "produce". This is not covered by the First Amendment or other free speech protections. Market forces have not always been good for research, a lot of which is plodding."

    On the other hand, I'm glad I missed all the drama. Totally useless.

    1. *wild tea-partying applause for the original post*

    2. Peter K: If you have some more thoughts on the topic, please feel free to post something or send us something. We can link to any old article that is germane to keep the discussion going.

    3. I think this is one of the most interesting topics we've discussed here. It's relevant to life in academia and people around here have a variety of views. I'd like to see people continue to bring this up when they find new articles or offer their own comments. There's no reason that the conversation needs to die just because of the way Blogger configures the page.

  10. There are absolutely no unwritten rules in CM. You should know this because it is one of the unwritten rules of CM.

    (sorry, couldn't resist. I similarly can't resist writing "6. There is no number 6." anytime I write a list with more than 6 items on it.)

  11. I do think that schools can operate on a consumer model, but people have to understand that they aren't paying for a "grade", they are paying for the opportunity to learn and an evaluation that can be used as proof of what they have learned. In fact, if we treated the product as a grade then what we paid for would be worthless because it wouldn't tell employers ANYTHING. Schools are an odd sort of pseudo-business where the stakeholders aren't just customers and employees, but also FORMER customers (alumni) as well as society as a whole. Schools also don't have investors so they really can't have "profit" as we understand it: They should seek positive revenue as a means towards the end of educating more people and educating people after a better fashion. In some senses they are very business-like, but in others the business model totally falls apart with higher education. I am relatively pro-market, certainly as far as college students go, and even I recognize that colleges always have been and always will be an admixture of business and not-for-profit institutions. If a business makes a billion dollars by doing nothing, then they've succeeded. If a University makes a ton of money but never educates a single student, then they've failed abysmally. There are some similarities between businesses and schools, i.e. both have rent-seeking behavior, but other than these few basic similarities there is almost no parallel.


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