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Advice on interviewing gay candidates for academic jobs

Karen M. Whitney and Jon Derek Croteau offer guideposts for interacting with candidates and finding the best talent for key academic positions.

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Essay asks why there is not an ice bucket equivalent to support higher education

If your college or university is anything like mine – seeking significantly increased resources to enable all the research, student aid, and facilities development that we would like to support – then perhaps you’ve been watching this summer’s social media phenom of the ALS ice bucket challenge with a sense of envy.

I share in the general pleasure that a worthy charity has enormously increased its finances, which may speed up a cure for a terrible disease. On the tally board of life, this profuse bucketing outbreak goes on the plus side for those of us who’d like to believe that people are basically good and inclined to help others in need.

And I also see the cavils: that this movement is a “slacktivist” fad, an easy and lazy manifestation of commitment; that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is relatively rare, and perhaps less deserving of funding than more prevalent maladies like malaria, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s; and that research funding should be determined by the rational standards of peer review rather than clickbait.

But my own foremost (and self-centered) response to this orgy of charitable energy is: If only I’d thought of it first. We might have a half-dozen new endowed chairs in our department and teaching-free dissertation fellowships for every one of our graduate students. Zadie Smith and Thomas Pynchon would be the featured speakers in our English department lecture series. (Granted, Pynchon’s not very visible on the lecture circuit, but wait until he sees our offer!)

Is our cause sufficiently worthy? Of course it is, and it’s pointless to argue whether higher education or ALS is more deserving: apples and oranges. The suffering of an ALS victim is terrible. The plight of people who cannot maximize their talents, too, is terrible. At my university, where over half our students qualify for Pell Grants and a third are first-generation college students, I see firsthand every day how profoundly meaningful a college education is for those who are marginally able to achieve it, and how fundamentally valuable it would be to extend that margin as much as possible.

So what can we do to connect with the public, to promote our worthy cause, and to set off a chain reaction that will bring along hordes of people jumping onto our bandwagon?

In the meta-analysis of the ice bucket challenge, many have commented on the arbitrariness of charitable giving and of catching the public’s eyes and hearts. But still, is there something we in academe can learn from this? Is this sort of philanthropic enterprise replicable? 

Where can I sign up my department to raise millions of dollars? I suppose I’d include the humanities at large – or even more magnanimously, I’ll extend the invitation to academe generally. (Participants from every campus could sport their university T-shirts to identify the recipient of each donation.)

Nearly as important as the cash, it would be extremely rewarding to find ourselves in the thick of a snowballing social movement, like the ALS campaign, that raises national consciousness and unleashes a contagious enthusiasm about what we do in higher education and how deserving our mission is of support.

Probably the appeal of the ice bucket campaign was lucky and unpredictable; if anyone knew exactly what makes a multimillion-hit meme, I imagine there would be consultants charging multimillion-dollar fees to produce them. (Perhaps there actually are such consultants, though I’m not aware of them.) Is it the snazzy visuals of the unexpected? The counterintuitive willingness to ruin an outfit and suffer – however momentarily – what I imagine would be a very unpleasant experience? (I haven’t taken this challenge myself, though I strongly suspect that I will be invited to do so any minute now.)

Honestly, I don’t have any bright ideas about how exactly to stage an academic iteration: a pie in the face? Banana peel pratfalls? Blind man’s bluff into a vat of tomato sauce? 

Perhaps we in the academy should aspire to something more dignified, but maybe, presuming that the success of ALS merits attention as a “best practice” ripe for our own adaptation, what draws massive crowds of participants is precisely the unexpected contrast between the seriousness of the problem and the oddly undignified escapism of the momentary “challenge.”

Some kind of slapstick gesture seems necessary: something physical and messy and shocking, involving a very intimately personal – bodily – engagement.

As silly as it is, the ALS Association’s challenge represents a wonderful manifestation of human ambition and determination: curing a debilitating disease seems undoable until it’s doable. With enough resolve, and enough money to throw at the problem, and enough human intelligence (which mainly takes the form, I will note, of academic research), it can be done. 

The same goes for a university education. Our scholarship, our teaching, and our community partnerships all contribute to the creation of a better society as measured by myriad qualitative and quantitative metrics. The notion of millions of citizens taking the time and energy to help us out by doing something that affirms our value would vitally reinvigorate our campuses after years of retrenched government funding and skyrocketing student debt. If our campaign were as successful as the ice bucket challenge – and why not dare to dream big? – we could actually mitigate those twin financial catastrophes that have lately taken such a toll on higher education.

I’ve done the hard part here in announcing this challenge to launch our challenge. Now somebody please just send me the YouTube link when you’ve figured out the specifics.
 

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Randy Malamud is Regents’ Professor and chair of the English department at Georgia State University.

 

Illinois Chancellor Sees Errors in Process, Not Outcome

Phyllis Wise, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is standing by her decision to block the hiring of Steven Salaita -- known for his anti-Israel tweets -- to teach in the American Indian studies program. But The News-Gazette reported that in a campus appearance Wednesday she noted "errors" in the process by which appointments are reviewed. For instance, she noted that candidates are offered jobs pending board approval, sometimes teaching before the board has assented. She also said she should have consulted with more people before making the decision.

 

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Seven former business professors sue Midway College after it laid them off during the middle of the year

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Seven former business professors take a private college in Kentucky to court for laying them off midway through the college's academic year.

Department chairs as enablers of educational change and transformation

Leaders of academic departments are underutilized in fostering change and progress in higher education, writes Marian Stoltz-Loike.

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Instructor Shoots Self in Foot, in Classroom at Idaho State

Faculty members and administrators in Idaho have been protesting a new law permitting concealed carry on campus. On Tuesday, an instructor with a concealed carry permit accidentally shot himself in the foot, in a classroom with others present, The Idaho State Journal reported. The gun was in the instructor's pocket when it went off.

 

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Higher GPA for Freshmen Who Frequent Campus Gym

First-year college students who regularly visit the campus gym are likely to have higher grade point averages than those who don't.

Or at least that's the case at Purdue University, where the university has tracked which first-year students frequently visited its France A. Cordova Recreational Sports Center and used their student ID numbers to generate a report based on their first-semester GPA. The university found that the students who visited the center 15 or more times a semester -- or about once a week -- held an average GPA of 3.08. The average GPA for students who did not regularly use the gym was a 2.81. That's the difference between a B and B-.

"The numbers show us the positive relationship, and we're still trying to identify whether there is a cause and effect," said Michelle Blackburn, assistant director of student development and assessment at Purdue's division of recreational sports. "When we talk to students who regularly use the facility they say it helps with their time management, and it also provides a sense of community which can be very important to that first-year experience."

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Unusual Senior Project to Draw Attention to Sex Assaults

A senior visual arts major at Columbia University has created an unusual senior project to draw attention to the issue of sexual assaults, New York Magazine reported. Emma Sulkowicz, who says that the university mishandled her rape allegations, announced that she will carry a mattress with her everywhere she goes this year, as long as the man she says raped her remains on campus. She is calling the project "Mattress Performance" or "Carrying the Weight."

 

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Education researchers discuss how Obama college ratings will impact underserved student populations

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Education researchers raise concerns that the Obama college ratings plan may harm underprivileged and minority students.

Questions about the reliability of a sustainability watchdog

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A new report by one sustainable investment advocate suggests one national ranking of sustainable campuses is often unreliable.

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