faculty

The End of Science 'Permadocs'?

The number of postdoctoral fellows in biology and biomedical sciences declined for the first time in more than 30 years, according to a new paper in The FASEB Journal, a publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The study says that even though the number of Ph.D. students continued to grow from 2010-13, the period surveyed, the number of postdocs declined 5.5 percent. “For some newly minted Ph.D. students, eschewing a postdoc may reflect a rational response to a tight academic labor market with low compensation and uncertain prospects for success,” lead author Howard Garrison, FASEB’s director of public affairs, said in a statement.

Garrison and his co-authors found that the number of postdocs in the biological or biomedical sciences at U.S. doctorate-granting institutions increased annually from 1979 through 2010. But the postdoctoral population fell from 40,970 in 2010 to 38,719 in 2013. While men and women and U.S. and foreign postdocs all decreased in number, the sharpest decline was among U.S. men, whose ranks dropped 10.4 percent from 2010-13.

The authors say that the postdoc drop did not coincide with reductions in graduate students or visas for foreign workers, but may be consistent with reductions in the number of research grants, independent labs and job announcements over the same period. A major study last year called for better pay and mentorship for postdocs, who increasingly are expected to do one or more fellowships on their way to faculty positions. Some have dubbed this the “permadoc” trend.

Carson Renews Call to Monitor Colleges for Bias

Ben Carson, among the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday renewed his call for federal monitoring of colleges' potential political bias. Appearing on Glenn Beck's radio show, Carson was asked if he favored shutting down the Education Department. Carson surprised his host by saying that he had a job for the department. That job: "It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and to deny federal funding" when such bias is found. His campaign staff did not respond to a request from Inside Higher Ed for a definition of the type of bias that merits denial of federal funds.

The exchange starts at about 3:26 of the video below.

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Multiple Protests of New U of Iowa President

In a rare move of coordinated reproof, leaders of the faculty governance bodies of eight Big Ten universities are rallying around their counterparts at the University of Iowa -- decrying the lack of faculty consultation that went into the university's most recent presidential search. And at Iowa, the protests are continuing.

The Iowa Board of Regents selected the businessman Bruce Harreld as the institution's next president, despite widespread faculty opposition to Harreld's candidacy. Shortly after the selection, the Faculty Senate at Iowa passed a vote of no confidence in the governing board, saying the selection showed "blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance."

Now leaders of the faculty governance bodies at eight of Iowa's Big Ten colleagues have signed a statement supporting the no-confidence vote. The statement was signed by leaders of the faculty groups at Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue Universities, and the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska at Lincoln, Wisconsin at Madison and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Principles of shared governance dictate that the voice of the faculty, which carries out the core mission of the university, is accorded considerable weight in all important decisions of university governance. In appointing Bruce Harreld as the president of the University of Iowa against overwhelming opposition from the faculty, the Board of Regents, state of Iowa, appear to have violated these principles," the statement reads. "We call on the Board of Regents, state of Iowa, to adhere to the principles of shared university governance and to ethical behavior and transparency."

At Iowa on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters interrupted a Board of Regents meeting, chanting, "Resign, resign," and urging board members and Harreld to quit, The Gazette reported. While board members didn't in fact resign, protest organizers said that they would continue their efforts.

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Study Qualifies Finding on Gender in Faculty Hiring

A controversial study this year found that, other factors being equal, faculty members seeking new colleagues in science and technology fields prefer female candidates over male candidates. But the Cornell University scholars who did that study have now published a new analysis in which faculty members were asked to evaluate for possible hiring (based on a portfolio of materials) male and female candidates in which the male candidate received slightly higher ratings. In these comparisons, faculty members generally picked the male candidate. “Faculty apparently view quality as the most important determinant of hiring rankings,” write Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams in the study, published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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Tarleton State Professor's Bizarre Resignation

Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Texas, says that it followed proper procedures in the events leading up to the resignation of Jeff William Justice, a former assistant professor of social science accused of performing a self-mutilation-based ritual in front of students. “Tarleton’s highest priority is the welfare of our students,” Cecilia Jacobs, a university spokeswoman, said via email. “These allegations were taken seriously and an investigation was promptly launched, during which time Dr. Justice was placed on administrative leave. In the midst of the investigation, Dr. Justice offered his resignation and it was accepted.”

The university had no additional comment on the allegations, but Inside Higher Ed obtained a campus police report. It is based on a complaint from a single student who says that Justice invited several students to his home and drank alcohol with them before complaining that he was sore from hanging by spikes in his chest from a tree branch in order to pray to the sun. He allegedly hung from the tree twice before the students left. The student who filed the complaint allegedly returned at a later date at Justice’s prompting, out of fear it would it affect his class grade if he did not. The student said he got scared and left, then talked to his father, who helped him report it to campus police in May.

Justice, who is no longer at Tarleton, could not immediately be reached for comment. The event was first reported by the Texan News Service, Tarleton's student newspaper. In a statement from Justice posted to the newspaper’s website, Justice denied giving alcohol to minors, but said he had attempted to harm himself in front of students due to severe depression, for which he is seeking treatment.

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Court: East Stroudsburg U Must Reinstate Professor Denied Tenure

East Stroudsburg University must uphold an arbitrator’s decision that it reinstate and reimburse for lost wages a professor denied tenure by the university president, according to a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision.

John Freeman, a former assistant professor of chemistry at East Stroudsburg, appealed through his union the president’s determination that he did not deserve tenure because he hadn’t sufficiently progressed as a scholar. (He was denied tenure by the previous president two years earlier and was allowed to reapply, when he was again reject by the new president, Marcia Welsh.) As dictated by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty-negotiated union contract, Freeman’s case eventually went to arbitration. The arbitrator decided that the university had violated the contract when Welsh denied Freeman tenure without reviewing the recommendations of the department chair and the universitywide tenure and promotion committee, and also by improperly consulting the provost.

The arbitrator said Freeman should be reinstated as a professor with the ability to reapply for tenure, to be determined by a neutral third party. The university challenged the arbitrator’s decision in court, which found that the president had indeed violated the terms of the contract by not consulting previous reviewers’ recommendations and by consulting with the provost.

The collective bargaining agreement “prescribes a detailed procedure by which faculty committees and department chairpersons are to submit written tenure recommendations to the president within specific time frames,” Judge Rochelle S. Friedman wrote in her opinion. “While the president may ultimately disagree with those recommendations, he or she cannot make a decision without first considering them. … [The contract] expressly permits the president to ‘act independently’ on a tenure decision only ‘if the committee(s) fail [sic] to act within the time limits specified’” for submitting recommendations to the president. Friedman also rejected East Stroudsburg’s claim that limiting the president’s authority would violate public policy.

A university spokesperson said administrators were reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment. William H. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said via email the decision’s major takeaway is that it “rested on the negotiated language concerning the tenure review procedures in the collective bargaining agreement. The excerpt of the at-issue contract provision, set forth in the court’s decision, supports the conclusion that a final decision to grant or deny tenure is to be based, in part, on a review of the positive recommendations.”

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NEH seeks to spur humanities Ph.D. training beyond traditional career paths

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Can the NEH change the orientation of doctoral programs in the humanities?

How to delegate to freelancers and virtual assistants (essay)

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If you know how to designate tasks, establish benchmarks and bring out the best in people, you can find an awesome virtual team to support you, writes Kerry Ann Rockquemore.

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Professor Who Killed 3 Colleagues in 2010 Apologizes

Amy Bishop, a former biology professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, has for the first time apologized for in 2010 killing three of her then colleagues and injuring three others, NBC News reported. In a handwritten note as part of a new appeal to undo a plea agreement she made, Bishop referred to what she did as a "terrible crime" and said she was "terribly sorry for the victims and their families, and my family." She is serving a life term under the plea agreement, but is asking that it be thrown out on the grounds that she was mentally ill at the time, and that her lawyer didn't adequately represent her.

One of those she injured, Joseph Leahy, a microbiology professor, said he doubted the sincerity of the apology. "Do I think she's truly sorry?" he asked. "I think she truly wants to get out of prison. That's what I think."

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A Ph.D. should result in a tenure-track job, not an alt-ac one (essay)

What’s the measure of a successful doctoral program? In many fields, placement in tenure-track positions used to be enough. Today, however, many Ph.D. programs are claiming other kinds of success, particularly placement in what is being described as alt-ac (short for alternative academic) employment. Alt-ac positions are often in administration on a campus, in museums or in libraries. Others are in government or nonprofit organizations. Typically these alt- or nonacademic jobs involve research, analysis and writing -- skills that many people hone in graduate school -- though few require completing a doctorate.

Some people believe that in competitive hiring between individuals who have some degree of postgraduate education, actually holding the terminal degree can offer an advantage. But is that theoretical edge in nonprofessorial employment a good reason to run a graduate program?

One explanation for the changing metric is that graduate faculty members are being more respectful of the actual career pathways of their students. As Bethany Nowviskie, the director of digital research and scholarship at the University of Virginia Library and a research associate professor of digital humanities at the university, puts it, “That our culture for many years has labeled these people ‘failed academics’ is a failure of imagination.” Her complaint is fair enough, particularly for those with nonfaculty positions on campus: professors do sometimes inflict status injury on nonfaculty staff members, even those with advanced degrees.

A more cynical explanation is that faculty like having graduate programs and, perhaps more to the point, administrators need them. For faculty, grad programs confer status, provide emotional gratification of several kinds and legitimate the teaching of fewer, smaller classes.

Crucially, however, administrators need doctoral programs across fields to maintain the institution’s Carnegie classification. One of the four major correlates of research activity used to measure aggregate institutional performance is Ph.D. conferrals. The hundred or so universities in the Very High Research Activity (VHRA) class push out a median of 35 humanities doctorates annually, 900 percent more than the hundred or so institutions in the merely High Research Activity group, whose median production is just four per year.

So long as continuing high levels of doctorate production are part of the price of admission to the most exclusive club in American higher ed, it’s hard not to imagine that many universities will continue to run a menu of smallish graduate programs even at a financial loss -- and find ever more elaborate rationales to keep them running.

With the support of influential graduate faculty and staff members at academic associations, the alt-ac brand of hashtag activism has won a tidal wave of big-dollar institutional support. While serving as president of the American Historical Association in 2011, Anthony T. Grafton issued a manifesto saying graduate curricula and culture should value and target alt-ac and nonacademic jobs and stop treating them as plan B to professorial appointment.

Today, the AHA actively sponsors “value-added” changes to graduate curricula in support of what it has called “The Malleable Ph.D.,” a vision of next-generation degree holders who respond flexibly to job-market opportunities other than their first-choice professorial careers. The association and its funding partners want prospective degree holders to know they are 100 percent behind those who, as 2015 AHA President Vicki L. Ruiz puts it, refuse to dismiss “a career outside the classroom as some sort of consolation prize.”

Armed with a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of “Career Diversity for Historians,” Ruiz is using her presidential year to whip up rationales for Ph.D. programs to value “service to multiple publics” -- i.e., beyond the faltering mission of reproducing tenure-stream faculty. Similarly, the University of Miami has attempted to brand itself as a “national leader” in graduate education by launching a program of internships in alt-ac careers alongside traditional forms of apprenticeship training such as teaching.

In short, suddenly a lot of money is being spent proving something that the Bureau of Labor Statistics could have told us for free: people who have earned doctorates have extremely low unemployment and generally have good jobs. The Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA) have each run expensive surveys to this effect.

The Council of Graduate Schools has the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Mellon Foundation to extend those survey efforts to other disciplines. The explicit intention is to articulate new rationales for Ph.D. production and new metrics appropriate to those rationales. CGS President Suzanne T. Ortega says the goal of acquiring better data about the alt-ac and nonacademic careers that previous degree holders have already found for themselves is to “develop curricula and professional development opportunities that better prepare graduate students for the full range of careers they are likely to follow.”

Put plainly, CGS and other big institutional players want to move the goalposts from a difficult challenge -- placing Ph.D. holders in tenure-track positions -- to a far simpler one -- taking credit for positions degree holders are already finding for themselves. They’re responding to programs desperate to find measures justifying Ph.D. production at a time when they can no longer pretend that the “market” in tenure track jobs is going to turn around.

Ruiz is up front about this, frankly adopting the approach articulated by advice columnist Leonard Cassuto earlier this year: “Instead of thinking wishfully about how great it would be to have a better system, let’s focus on what can be done with the bad system that we have.” What Cassuto and Ruiz mean by a bad system is one that trains people for positions that don’t exist because the jobs have been converted into temp work.

As responsible analysts have understood since the mid-1990s, this isn’t because of an oversupply of Ph.D.s but an intentionally created undersupply of tenure-stream positions. Beginning in 1970, administrators began systematically turning teaching-intensive jobs into part-time or nontenurable positions that -- they claim -- don’t require a Ph.D. As a result, many teaching-intensive appointments are filled with students, staff members and other people who don’t have doctorates -- while those with doctorates quit the academy or take alternative academic jobs.

So from at least one informed, activist perspective, keeping Ph.D. programs running makes sense. There’s actually plenty of faculty work for everyone with a doctorate. The real solution is turning temp work back into tenurable positions, just as the American Association of University Professors has long maintained, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has recently proposed with a bill to make federal education aid contingent upon states restoring a 75 percent tenure ratio in publicly employed college faculty. If the Sanders plan succeeded in restoring that ratio in even two large states, many disciplines would soon see an undersupply of persons with terminal degrees.

However, what Ruiz and Cassuto want is to keep programs running without changing the labor system. That’s a far less ethically tenable posture. Unlike the AAUP and Sanders, they prefer to believe the system is fundamentally unfixable, and dismiss meaningful change as “wishful thinking.” They think people studying for doctorates should actively plan on jobs in filmmaking, government or nonprofits. Cassuto’s new book, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It, reiterates this thesis, claiming that graduate schools in the humanities with a “realistic” approach must alter curricula to emphasize “practical, transferable skills” that prepare Ph.D. students for a “wide range” of work entirely outside the academy.

Even while people without doctorates make up an ever-larger fraction of college teachers, Cassuto and his supporters dismiss as “utopian” such straightforward Sanders-style fixes to the system as employing those with Ph.D.s in teaching-intensive positions. Although Cassuto occasionally lauds examples of Ph.D.s in teaching-intensive positions -- including one of his own students whose admission he might have blocked if he’d known she wanted to teach at a community college (gasp!) -- over all, he assumes that graduate students have little interest in pursuing careers in what he airily dubs “low-caste teaching.”

Apart from the distasteful confusion of curricular location with caste, there are at least two big factual mistakes here. First, grad students and nontenurable faculty members teach the full range of courses at many institutions, from the first year to disciplinary seminars, including at the graduate level. Second, most faculty positions, tenured or not, involve teaching courses at different locations in the curriculum.

Dismissing lower-division teaching as “low caste” isn’t just offensive; it paints a false picture, dismissing from consideration the majority circumstances of the professoriate. The superficial pragmatism of Ruiz and Cassuto conceals how foundations, associations and much of the academic chattering class continue to evade the real problems of contemporary faculty.

For people with doctorates, by far the most common “alternative” to professorship is a nontenurable appointment. Ditto for persons who went to graduate school but didn’t complete the degree requirements. Those with these part-time or nontenurable appointments have long outnumbered the tenured minority. They too are treated like “failed academics.” What is really needed is much more aggressive support for the nontenurable majority faculty.

While no one is going to argue against supporting degree holders who search for nonprofessorial employment, there’s little evidence that they actually need more of this help. My cohort of graduate school activists in the mid-1990s was already perfectly aware that folks with doctorates who went the nonprofessorial route generally had low unemployment and good jobs. According to the MLA and AHA surveys, that hasn’t changed. These folks have consistently found excellent employment without placement help from their professional associations.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for foundations and associations to actually address the more substantial question -- raised by activists, the AAUP and Sanders -- of whether persons with doctorates should hold teaching-intensive positions as they did in 1970, and on what terms, with what preparation?

Sure, that would require sustained civic engagement and serious political effort. It would raise further tough questions -- such as how to safeguard the workplace rights of current faculty without doctorates while recreating teaching-intensive tenure-stream positions. But that would be in the best interests of graduate students, for many of whom the goal of getting a doctorate remains quite straightforward: a tenure-track job.

Marc Bousquet is an associate professor in the department of film and media studies at Emory University.

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