Wednesday, April 30, 2008

AAUP report on Faculty Salaries

Check out the press release (with a link to the full report) here:

Distressing here is not only the reduced purchasing power of full time faculty (how can I not be distressed?), but more to the poiunt are facts like this:

  • Long-term salary trends also indicate a widening differential between the average salaries of faculty members at private colleges and universities and the average salaries of their colleagues at public institutions. When public institutions struggle to attract (and keep) the best faculty, our nation faces the risk of creating separate but unequal systems of higher education.
  • The salaries paid to head football coaches at Division I-A universities are ten times as high as the salaries of senior professors. What does this say about the priorities of these universities?
  • The gap between faculty salaries and salaries paid to administrators continues to grow. What does that tell us about institutional priorities? This year’s report builds on previous discussions of presidents’ salaries by including data for other top administrators.
  • Over three decades, employment patterns in colleges and universities have been radically transformed. While the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty has grown 17 percent, the ranks of contingent faculty (both part and full time) and full-time nonfaculty professionals have each tripled, and the count of administrators has doubled.

  • I have harped on this here and elsewhere, but this is more evidence about the deleterious effects of the corporatization of the university: growing labor exploitation, an increasing gap between the wealthiest employees (Football coaches? Hello?) and the poorest (and I'm not even talking about junior TT faculty, who even in the worst situations are above the poverty line (see contingent faculty)), and growing emphasis on middle management.

    The title of the report asks where the priorities are for American Higher ed, and given that faculty employment info tells us much about what happens in the classroom, the priorities are the bottom line over quality education. Why else put over-worked, underpaid contingent faculty and graduate teachers in front of over overpopulated classrooms?

    I know! Football coaches are not working in the off-season! Let's let THEM teach 4 sections of comp! Basketball staff can do some summer sessions at 3k a pop and see how happy they are.

    Let's see what happens when highly-paid administrators find themselves back in the classroom. Sadly, there's a lot more stuff to be said here that has to pertain to my own institution, but I'm not in a position to blog about it now. Suffice it to say we've got our own problems with highly-paid, high-ranking administrators not worried about how their priorities reflect on the classrooms they purportedly oversee.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    Humanities Crisis at Toledo

    I’m posting this, a blend of quote and paraphrase from a friend and blogospherian, to get the word out about a petition to the leadership of the State of Ohio to take notice and intervene in the planning and direction of the University of Toledo.

    [begin paraphrased message]

    What’s going on at Toledo is, unfortunately, part of a larger pattern in public higher education [one I, Horace, will comment on more below]. I hope you’ll think about signing the petition, for it will only have weight if more than the usual suspects sign it, and if it starts to gain national attention. Also, feel free to circulate the link to other interested parties. The petition is here - -- but you may need some background, first.

    There have been, apparently, some troubling events and potential changes at the
    University of Toledo since the arrival of the new president, Lloyd Jacobs, MD, in 2006. In short, Jacobs seems bent on turning this metropolitan comprehensive university into a narrowly focused school of applied science and technology, where all other fields, if they are to continue at all, will exist only as support/service courses to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. And that’s not even STEM fields as widely conceived to include all sciences and social sciences, but only as Jacobs sees them, and only what he values: medicine, engineering, and environmental sciences – i.e., those fields where Jacobs can see a narrow utilitarian value of “improving the human condition” and the possibility of saleable, patentable, money-making research. (Indeed, Jacobs even refers to the acronym as STEMM or STEM2, including “medicine” as the second M, and clearly thinks only in terms of upper division undergraduate and professional education.)

    Jacobs, a surgeon by training, and a hospital and medical school administrator by experience, came into Toledo set on the task of making the university “narrower and deeper” (his words and an oft-repeated phrase). While there might be some argument that not every university can be everything to everyone, the speed with which Jacobs has attempted this radical change, and the way in which he has attempted it – without faculty input, without student input, without careful thought, planning, or research – has had a terrible impact on faculty and student morale, especially for those of us in the fields he does not value. Even tenured faculty are worried about their job stability. And if faculty don’t lose their jobs, they may nevertheless lose control over curriculum, at which point one wonders what that job stability will be worth.

    For a concrete idea of what Jacobs’ intentions for our university are, as publicly stated, let me direct you to three documents:

    1) The mission and core values of the university as re-written by Jacobs and his team to focus on Jacobs’ favorite theme, “improving the human condition,” found here:

    2) The Strategic Plan for the university, largely written by Jacobs and his hand-picked committee largely consisting of administrators, with a couple of token faculty members from arts and humanities (2 out of 44, both of whom were also administrators). The final version of this is a Word document called “Directions: The University of Toledo” (Jan. 30, 2008), found in the right column on this page:

    3) And most recently, Jacobs’ April 2 state of the university address, entitled “Re-Engineering the Undergraduate Experience or Mass-Customization in Higher Education,” the content of which was surprise to everyone, despite the fact that it outlines a massive curricular change. It can be found here:

    In Jacob’s state of the university address, he refers to – and, ultimately, misinterprets – the State of Ohio’s Strategic Plan for higher education. If you’re interested in reading it, the complete document can be found here: The executive summary is here: The petition highlights some of the ways Dr. Jacobs’ plans misread the state’s strategic plan.

    The blog run by the UT Arts and Sciences Council is here:

    [End Paraphrased Post]

    I also, then, want to connect this very immediate issue to a larger issue within the humanities generally, and cultural studies specifically (the subject of this essay). Look here at Ien Ang's essay, "Who Needs Cultural Research?"

    The short-termist, market-driven moves that seem to be under consideration for Toledo seem to undermine not only the humanities, but indeed much of the deeper, more resonant work of the knowledge community fostered by the whole university. Coupled with the kinds of Sokal attacks on humanities (and the anti-science rhetoric that those like Sokal feel attacked by) the science-against-humanities approach to the university, as one of exchange-oriented use-value versus leftist ivory-towerism threatens the life of university culture as we know it, and with a whole host of philosophies (left and right) about what a higher education can and should mean.

    To me, I find this new Toledo model short-sighted, bottom-line-oriented, and interested in efficiency for the sake of easier administration, not better education. So sign the petition and spread the word. A university without a vibrant humanities core is not the way to go in American higher ed.

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    RBOC: Headers!

    End of Semester
    • So far this semester, I'm staying on top of the end of the semester work, having cleared out my grading cache on a pretty consistent basis. But wait until the ill-fated May 8, when I collect final papers from all of my students, and must turn them around very very quickly.
    • The real challenge has been keeping up with the reading on my own graduate syllabus, not because I assigned too much reading, but because every piece I read that I assigned, I feel compelled to go off and read four or five other things that I didn't assign, but that might be useful for class, or more importantly, are useful in shaping my reading for the book project.
    • Attrition has often been a problem in my undergraduate survey courses, often with a 25-35% drop off in attendance. This semester has been marked exception to that rule though: of the 33 students on my initial roster (one of whom never showed up), I returned 30 exams last class. In fact, on a beautiful, sunny day in April, discussing a novel that would not be on any exam, 28 students showed up. Something's in the water this semester.
    • Over the course of the school year, I put on 10 pounds of the 25 I had lost, but I realized yesterday that that's not all yo-yo weight. Since I've been doing more weight-lifting than cardio this winter, I'm clearly putting on some muscle weight, which I suppose is fine, though not an actual goal. The point is, I had these great chalk-stripe black linen trousers that last summer had been one of my markers of the weight-loss, and yesterday I wore them, and they fit just fine. So while I've been feeling glum about the body work, some of that is in my head. I may try to post more about that in the next few weeks.
    • Speaking of weight-lifting, I worked up to a set of squats yesterday at 195 lbs. which is 15 lbs. above my body weight. I felt awfully good about that (which is odd, since actual weight lifted has never been a big deal to me), because there's something comforting about knowing that I could lift a full-grown person on my back if I needed to. You know, for all that full-grown person lifting I have to do as a professor of contemporary literature.
    Theatre and the Arts
    • One of the things I love about being connected to a university is college theatre. In almost three years here, I haven't been very successful about getting connected with the folks in theatre (some exceptions, of course), but I did just see a really wonderful production of a Brecht play this week, with puppets, mask work, and in-the-round staging. The theatrical vocabulary was risky, really, since the production was hardly a brechtian purist's dream, but it was imaginative, and really quite effective in many places. Moreover, the director did astonishingly good work drawing out a range of great performances from the actors. I quite enjoyed it.
    • Willow and I also had intended to go see a show by a local company last week, but our sitter got sick at the last minute, so we had to cancel. Bummer, really.
    • I'm re-reading Winterson's Written on the Body to teach this week. There are so many reasons to love this book, ranging from the really savvy way that it approaches the constructedness of gender to an oddly compelling way that it invokes both a specific period of my own life and a kind of historical moment in the early and mid-90s. It always makes me think of that line in the James song "Laid": Dressed me up in women's clothes / Messed around with gender roles/ Dye my eyes and call me pretty.
    • Also reading Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler to teach next semester. I do adore this book, both its playfulness, and its serious approach to that play, that somehow the stakes of reading itself are enough to drive a narrative plot.
    • Finally, I'm making my way through Marc Bousquet's How the University Works, which I owe a review on this site, as soon as I'm finished. I will say, its critique of univeristy labor practices and the complicity of TT and tenured faculty in holding this up is pretty compelling. I'm working right now on the chapter on composition programs and the way they abuse labor. Having been on both sides of that equation, I'm finding it very interesting reading indeed.
    • Finally, I'm reading two essays for our faculty research group: one on the poetics of SPAM and another on a 19th century anti-feminist novel by a woman. Good stuff indeed.
    Random bullets of RBOC:
    • I am a co-best man in a wedding this weekend. It is the first wedding in which I've ever been attendant, which has always been a bit of a sticking point for me. But then again, this particular friend has never gotten married before.
    • I really really love Spring. Allergies are worth it.

    There's more to say but I gotta do some work. Stay tuned for a longer on precisely that topic.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Responding to Response Papers

    I am reading and grading response papers from the graduate class this evening (and I post this having realized this week that at least a couple of students on campus know this blog and know it's mine), and I find myself a little baffled at the concept of the response paper itself. And I'm the one who assigned it...

    It's funny: I've never entirely gotten what a response paper is supposed to be. As an undergrad, I veered wildly from the my-personal-feelings-on-this-book sort of rumination to the very-short-but-otherwise-formal academic argument. And I got advised away from both styles at different points.

    In grad school, the ones I recall most regularly actually had specific prompts, so they weren't quite so unfocused, but what I remember most about them was that I felt willing to play a bit. A response paper in a textual studies and bibliography class on the paratext of an assigned text found me writing the entire essay in paratext: a title with footnotes, but no body. Clever, I think still, but kind of pointless beyond the playfulness. I also wrote a song (to the tune of "Cruella DeVil") about Jerome McGann in that class, riffing on an episode that McGann describes in one of his classes in The Textual Condition (I think).

    In my 300-level class last fall, I assigned them, but pushed in clear and explicit terms, the mini-formal-argument model, which I think ended up putting way too much pressure on them. But it was the only way I knew how to grade writing, was with some sorts of formal infrastructure to build my comments around. But this didn't do the job, since while the best students adjusted, some who struggled ended up going toward formal coherence over actual thought-processing.

    In the grad course, I've tried to encourage the rumination approach. As I've been reading, responding to, and (unfortunately) grading them, I've found that the papers I respond to most strongly are those that are hammering out an idea, in conversation with the actual readings we've been doing, but mostly something that actually seems to be dealing with a critical problem. For some essays, that problem has been simply trying to make sense of a difficult theoretical position in practical terms; others have taken their own reading impulses and examined them closely; still others have taken a more formal route, but done so in decidedly exigent terms.

    I've also found, though, that I like to read playful response papers--bits of personal narrative seem to have a positive rhetorical effect on this reader, where they wouldn't in a final paper. I like the moments when students actually narrate their train of thought (often blaming me for "mucking up my thought process" to quote from one essay). This may be a readerly quirk, a bit of seeing myself in my students.

    The best papers? They take a real problem and tackle it head on. They engage the critical conversation in a more-than-perfuctory way. And they play. They don't always reach a conclusion, they don't always break new ground, and they don't necessarily even have a thesis.

    But in figuring this out, I'm still not entirely sure how to teach that up front. So, dear reader: how do you assign, teach, and respond to response papers? What do you look for? What do say to them?

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    A Little Bonus

    I knew that my most recent book review would be appearing in print sometime this month, so I was happy when it arrived today--even with book reviews, there's a little thrill that comes from seeing one's name in print.

    The little bonus? This is the journal's 50th Anniversary issue (Behind Project MUSE's firewall; the current issue isn't up just yet), and so its pages are stocked with state-of-the-field entries from big name after big name, so just a few more people may notice my name in those pages. That's just nice.

    Saturday, April 12, 2008

    Better than a Blue Velvet Blazer

    For Willow's upcoming birthday, we decided to take an overnight trip to Beltway Burb (land of Willow's young life) to do some shopping, since here, we're limited to TJ Maxx, Target and Belk. Hardly high end fashion, and always overpriced, particularly for the quality.

    In Beltway Burb, we decided to hit Nordstrom Rack and Lohman's to update our wardrobes, hers for the potential for increased professional activity, and mine to reflect (ostensibly) the weight loss (which at this point is again aspirational).

    We had budgeted for this, so I'm not too terribly upset at the money we spent, and really it is all worth it for this blazer, which is now mine:

    It's a bit more burgundy than this picture indicates, but damn! it's a fine item, and I paid roughly 30% the retail price for it, so...

    Add to that four or five high-interest dress-shirts (a green houndstooth pattern, a white tone-on-tone stripe, etc.) a casual khaki-stripe linen suit, and a lovely spring green tie, and I am one happy camper. And since it's going back down to the 40s for a couple of days here, I may even have opportunity to wear that blazer before next October!

    Willow did similarly well, although she didn't get the little patent spectator flats--but because it was her birthday this week, she did get an extra 15% off at Lohmann's. Basically a free pair of jeans for her. So that was nice.

    We also got to dine with Jason and Lisa, whom we'll see in a couple of weeks when we return to the Burb for a wedding I'm in. For a 28 hour trip, this was a grand slam.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    University Development and Campus Employees

    Once a year, I get in my mailbox a packet of information about the latest capital campaign. This is not explanatory info telling us what the development office is doing, but an actual, bona fide pitch--they are soliciting my money.

    This has always struck me as odd, and the more I think about it, the more I find it actually kind of offensive. What the university seems to be asking me, implicitly, is to take a voluntary pay cut.

    Now I know that universities run on endowment, and I have given to my almas mater from time to time. I am less ambivalent about my undergraduate institution, which funded me with generous scholarships, than I am my graduate institution, for whom I worked for less-than-living wage as a TA and a graduate student writing program administrator. Sometimes, in my more blustery moods, I imagine that I'll only donate to them when I pay off all the loans I had to take out in order to live in a major metropolitan area.

    But BRU is my employer, and this strikes me as a different thing entirely. We're in a poor state as it is, so salaries across the board are lower than peer institutions (indeed, lower than most four-year schools). But when they ask me for money, there is no implicit "giving back to the institution that trained you" kind of mentality. Instead, the underlying logic seems to be "sacrifice for the university you love."

    This logic troubles me because of the way it continues to implicitly devalue intellectual labor: that we do it because we love it, and therefore it doesn't constitute a valuable commodity. Now, I have misgivings about the pervasiveness of commodification, and the reduction of everything to exchange value, but when it comes down to it, I work hard for a salary. A smallish one. So to have my employer ask me to give back a part of that salary for the benefit of my employer (presumably so we can pay our basketball coach almost 20 times my salary) seems a little insulting.

    What am I missing here?

    Edited to Add: Welcome IHE readers. There are some more cogent thoughts in the comments than in this off-the-cuff post. And as I've been thinking about it, I realize that there are a lot of reasons why development offices might want to solicit faculty, and why faculty might want to donate to their employing institution, and many of these reasons are contingent upon the kind of institution, the salary of the faculty, and the degree to which the institution invests faculty with power in the governance of the institution.

    I don't want to say too much about those things here, but given my initial reaction, you might probably imagine how some of those things are configured here, or at least how they feel from the ground.

    I do want us to think more about this, though: What kind of assumptions about faculty and intellectual labor are being made when we are given a cookie-cutter direct-mail solicitation? What other sorts of non-profits solicit their employees, and to what results? and what ends?

    In the meantime, I do hope that new readers will comment extensively, if for no other reason that to continue informing me and the readership about the issues involved here.

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    And now: a Musical Interlude, or why my life mirrors REM's post-IRS-Records discography

    For whatever reason, I've been listening to some new music lately. My relatively late conversion to the iPod, and the even later embrace of iTunes has meant that fairly recently, I've been buying some new music that I might not have discovered otherwise.

    Of my recent purchases:
    Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism: Death Cab was making music for hipsters before I stopped listening to new music (i.e. before the kids were born), but I never quite caught the wave. After Christmas, I downloaded the title track with a gift card, and found myself going back to it, so I bought the whole album. I haven't listened to it much, but it's moody and melancholy and good for brooding, which happens to describe many of my favorite albums (even though I'm hardly a brooding person).

    k.d.lang: Watershed: k.d. has produced some of my very favorite discs: Ingenue, Drag, Hymns of the 49th Parallel are all gorgeous albums. In certain moods, I've been known to favor her version of "Hallelujah" from the last album over the now-canonical cover of that song by tortured saint Jeff Buckley. This one is a bit more like her last original material album Invincible Summer. Both have some song that I like, but I imagine after a bit of time, only individual songs will stay on the iPod. I did not go see her (at $55 buck a seat) when she recently came to campus.

    Punch Brothers
    : Punch: Perhaps you heard the NPR feature on this side project of Chris Thile of Nickel Creek. Or on Leno. They've been popping up here and there. Point is, when I tell people who know me that I've been listening to progressive bluegrass, they squinch up their eyes and noses, and say "hunh?" But this is a pretty amazing set by classically trained musicians who happen to come out of a bluegrass tradition with bluegrass instruments. The four-movement, 40-minute "The Blind Leaving the Blind" is to bluegrass what Jonny Greenwood is for post-rock. I've been listening to this constantly for about a month.

    Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha was recommended to me by PReppy (capitalized that way 'cause he works in Public Relations), who has a lot of pop/indie music cred (he came of age in Seattle during grunge), and who seemed to think that it would fill in for the absence of new work by the aforementioned Jeff Buckley. Bird doesn't have that glorious voice (although it's nice), but the music is complex and textured, and I suspect that after a few more listens, I'll like it a lot. That said, it has been overshadowed by the album that I purchased at the same time...

    REM, Accelerate: True confessions, though. REM was the first band I really loved, particularly after the Christian Rock phase of my adolescence. Out of Time and then Automatic for the People were the albums I hung my hat on for a while, in a time when people signaled Who They Were with the Music They Listened To. REM has always been nerd rock, and I have always been a nerd.

    And even as those two albums say something about the way I identify myself (as well as 1996's underrated New Adventures in Hi-Fi), the ones since Bill Berry left the band have said things about me that I care not to acknowledge: that I'm getting old, I've lost my edge, I am perhaps overly in love with the sound of my own voice to the detriment of those talents around me, and I use computers to do things that I used to be able to do myself. Up was passable and has some beautiful music, Reveal is adult contemporary with a few good songs, and Around the Sun is bad enough that I only have one song loaded onto my iPod (the lovely "Leaving New York").

    So everyone's saying Accelerate is, if not a return to form, at least a good hard driving album that sounds like an REM album, rather than an adult contemporary band inspired by equal parts REM and Air Supply. This seems true, and I quite like the album, but, like Monster from 1995, this album seems to be rocking out in quotation marks. If, as the Angela Carter quote in my 6-word autobiography suggests, the "performance perfectly simulated an improvisation," then this album perfectly simulates a rock album by a rock band. But there's something just a little, well, studied about it. Like me: If I study hipness and hard living enough, I can sound just like my students, fit in with them on Facebook, drop references in class that astonish them with my currency. But I'm still a slowly aging nerd.

    I'll be listening to Accelerate a lot over then coming months I guess. The songs are good workout songs, and a few of them are real gems. But as a whole, it will serve just as much as a reminder that I can still rock too, but I'll be just a bit stiffer and sorer the morning after.

    Sunday, April 06, 2008

    RBOC: Nothin' to Say Edition

    When people have asked me how I'm doing lately, I've been frequently caught off guard by the question: "uhhhh...OK?"

    There are a few low-lying worries on the back burner right now, but they are not primarily mine, and so with those, I'm sort of following the lead of those whose worries they are (Elliptical, I know, but not my stories to tell).

    As for me, personally and individually, I'm doing ok; to wit:

    • The grad class went through a lull in March, which was partially the fault of the material (a body of work that I have found very little critical conversation on, which suggests a low level of interest generally, not just in my classroom). It was also partially my fault: I opened up the classroom for general discussion a bit to far, and did too little to frame the discussion, so several classes just sort of petered out, instead of filling out with rousing discussions. I added some more structure upon our return, and class went quite well again. I'm looking forward to a good push to the end of the semester.
    • The survey is plugging along. They continue to be one of the best larger sections of the survey I've taught, and attendance continues to be uncharacteristically good for this bunch, which has paid off in exam grades, including the last average of over 90% (previously sections have averaged 83 or 84 on similarly designed tests). That number is a little troubling, but in looking over it, and trying to control for a number of variables, I've come to believe that they just learned more than previous sections have. We'll see what happens for final papers in May.
    • Spring is finally arriving here in the hills: I picked some daffodils from the front hill this morning, and the lawn will soon need to be mowed (along with those leaves that didn't make it into bags last fall). There is a lot of yard work that needs to be done this spring, and while I've never been much for gardening and the like, I kind of want to get some of this stuff accomplished: transplanting, fertilizing, cleaning up, pruning, etc.
    • Willow is out with a friend today, so I've got the kids to myself. I'm thinking we get some time outside as soon as it warms up a bit. Perhaps I'll get some pictures taken. We'll see.
    • I've gained 10 pounds since last summer's weight loss. Some of that is muscle, since I've cut down on cardio machines (which I despise) in favor of weight workouts with Willow (which I kind of enjoy). Still. I'm looking forward to May when I can concentrate on losing that weight again, and maybe getting a head start on next winter, too. I'm aiming for 160, down from 193 last April, and 178 now.
    • Which reminds me: Soccer season should be starting soon. Hopefully, the team I played with last fall will re-form. This would be important since my squash partners have both stopped playing (knee and shoulder injuries), and my new racquetball partner and I haven't found a regular schedule yet. This is the exercise I really like: getting out with some people, running around, and playing a game.
    • Contrary to my actual hopes, I've done little writing on the book, though the grad class has gotten me to do a lot of reading. I really need to get writing, but all of the reading and re-reading actually has me a little paralyzed about the magnitude of the project. I think I just have to get my butt in the chair and write.