faculty

Legislative Challenge to Tenure Fails in Utah

A committee in the Utah House of Representatives on Wednesday killed a bill that would have barred public colleges and universities from offering tenure to new faculty members, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Utah higher education officials said that the bill, if passed, would have been the first such law in the United States, and would have hurt the reputation of the state's colleges. But Representative Christopher Herrod, who proposed the measure, said: "There’s been no academic research that tenure benefits the system. I believe competition brings out the best. I believe in the capitalist system." He added that, if the state's higher education leaders really believe in tenure, they wouldn't be relying on adjuncts. "If we think tenure is so valuable, why don’t we have 100 percent on tenure? Are we not creating two classes of individuals?" he said.

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How Soviet migration impacted the field of mathematics

Boris Yeltsin might not have served on any tenure committees, but he may have affected the productivity and careers of American mathematicians, study finds.

Essay imagines the future of academe

Imagine this scenario, set 15 years hence, as one possible future for higher education in the United States.

The Great Recession never entered a "double dip," as many had predicted. However, it never rebounded. The effective unemployment rate remained stubbornly at 16 percent (one in every six Americans underemployed) for over a decade. This group of disaffected Americans included hundreds of thousands of talented academics. They pieced together an existence by teaching, tutoring, and anything else to pay the bills.

Higher education struggled to find a new business model, but tuition continued to increase at 6 percent a year, as it had historically. The discounted tuition at private institutions rose to far exceed annual median family income, even as net tuition revenue didn’t increase enough to balance budgets for the institutions. At the same time, the weak market continued to devalue college savings. Parents who had been diligently saving since their child was born had accumulated too few resources to support that child’s first (or even second or third) choice of college. The availability and cost of loans grew ever more challenging, as did the ability to service loans after graduation.

Entrepreneurial organizations, like Versatile Ph.D., had arrived on the scene, offering to help "humanities and social science Ph.D.s and graduate students identify and prepare for possible non-academic careers." Students continued to qualify for admission to college but most were leery of the crushing debt they would incur.

Small colleges that had suffered losses for decades closed in ever-increasing numbers. Public universities dealt simultaneously with a lack of state support and an overabundance of state oversight. For community colleges, the standard outcome of bond issue votes was rejection. Adjunct faculty members, exhausted and humiliated by decades of massive course loads, pitiful pay, and no health insurance, found new company in faculty members from defunded and downsized institutions. These wanderers joined the ranks of disaffected students everywhere who could no longer afford traditional institutions, who had been run through the industrial grinder of for-profit higher education, and who still longed for the global competitive advantage that increasingly vocational training could not provide.

Success in the flat-world economy required training to think, communicate, strategize, and lead. It also depended on a mastery of the collective knowledge of humanity, an understanding of diverse cultures, and a desire to enter into the diaspora of global commerce.

Enter the rōnin, a new class in academe modeled after the roving teachers of 18th-century feudal Japan. Like those disenfranchised samurai — or rōnin — who had been compelled to reinvent themselves, 21st-century itinerant academics were highly motivated to re-architect their role in higher education. As the Great Recession rolled on and on, they found no permanent home in the academy, just as hopeful students were effectively shut out of the college classroom.

Thus the rise of the rōnin coincided with an emerging new market of students and their families, open to alternative educational opportunities. Nurtured in a hyper-networked world where the crumbling economies of European nations could immediately (and negatively) impact their lives, these potential students were painfully aware of the need for strategic understanding of global economies and cultures. They were eager to learn, to actively demonstrate their abilities, and ultimately become engaged participants in the global marketplace of opportunity. Employers, thoroughly numbed by candidates with "desirable" college credentials, were also open to change.  

Rōnin, credentialed yet denied access to tenure-track positions, began to imagine and then to engineer alternative careers. Despite the sputtering of the 21st-century higher-ed machine, the desire to learn and the passion to teach persisted. Exclusion from the academy was a powerful motivator. Unburdened by the overhead of that old model, rōnin tutors endeavored to create high-touch communities of practice. They attracted cadres of committed students connected via social networks, digital resources, and shared discourse. Guilds of rōnin took form, offering an affordable education with a variety of talented teachers. The guilds offered a flexible and affordable model to students who had no hope of participating in the old academy. Freed from the strictures of the fraying academic model, disaffected 21st-century academics began to build a future that accommodated their skills, knowledge, commitment, and drive.  

The open education movement had started as a trickle at the turn of the 21st century. The trickle grew into a flood of free learning resources, ranging from tutorials to textbooks. A generation of students had grown up relying as much on the Khan Academy as on their teachers. These students had never known a world without universal access to world-class lectures, Wikipedia, and Google Books. Of course, they had also grown up with a torrent of pirated resources available to anyone who cared to search for them. Learning resources, free or pilfered, had always been ubiquitously available on whatever gadget they happened to carry. Like them, rōnin took these things for granted. No one worried anymore about library acquisitions and access.

Distance was also different for this generation. They could not recall a time when social networks had not brought them together. These students had grown up learning languages from native speakers via Skype rather than from their high school Spanish teacher. Whether sitting in a classroom or on a plane to China, friends, teachers, and (alas) parents always had access to them. They had never studied without their vast networks at the ready. Indeed, they had never studied "offline." Therefore, they were perfectly comfortable forming cohorts on their own as they studied with a variety of rōnin.

The fractured past was replaced with a coherent collective of independent educators. The rōnin’s independence from the institution fueled an increase in academic freedom. Beholden to no one but their student cohorts, their respected peers, and their pursuit of scholarship, this new collective was emboldened to research, write, and publish with a freedom not seen for centuries. Availing themselves of cheap or free information resources and burgeoning digital publication alternatives, the rōnin were free to pursue their work unfettered by tenure and promotion policies or antiquated accreditation boards. Rather than sinking into self-indulgent solitary research, as some had predicted, they flourished in dynamic collaborations with similarly motivated colleagues.  

Students also were free to craft their education. They created curriculums relevant to their ambitions, delivered by scholars of their choice. Cohorts of students with complementary curricular needs meshed with collectives of rōnin tutors. Both were free to craft their own futures and take responsibility for the outcomes. No one entered into guilds or cohorts unless they were motivated to take responsibility for their education and their work. Indeed, this facet of the process began to attract those students whose superior abilities afforded them more opportunities within the existing academy.  

Back in 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Education had thrown down the gauntlet regarding credentialing. He had recognized that traditional accreditation and degree requirements were being outpaced by the realities of the "technology-enabled, information-rich, deeply interconnected world." In a prescient speech, he had argued, "Badges can help speed the shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency…. We must accelerate that transition…. Badges offer an important way to recognize non-traditional ways of learning. They're a way to give credence — and ultimately, credit — for the skills learners and teachers acquire in a broader set of learning environments, and a wider range of content."

Rōnin were quick to seize upon badges, but they also revived the classical portfolio of knowledge. They insisted that their students produce not only theses, but performances, readings, stories, games, debates, and other forms of scholarly work. All of these were available online, worldwide. A given student’s accomplishments were more than a set of credentials on a resume; they were a growing portfolio. A human resource manager in Singapore could get a feeling for a candidate’s skills and personality without leaving her desk. It turned out that employers quite liked these portfolios.

The guilds of rōnin continued to grow and prosper. Meanwhile, higher education institutions struggled with a growing sense that their bubble had burst. Perhaps there was no new business model that could save them.

Coda: “Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.” – Cormac McCarthy

 W. Joseph King is executive director and Michael Nanfito is associate director for strategy of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education.

Academic Minute: Extrasolar Planet Discovery

In today’s Academic Minute, Alice Quillen of the University of Rochester reveals the process used to detect and describe objects orbiting distant stars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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AFT Council Affirms Partnership With AAUP

The American Federation of Teachers Executive Council on Tuesday reaffirmed a commitment to collaborating with the American Association of University Professors on advocacy efforts and union organizing. The announcement extends a relationship created in 2008 as part of an effort to bring more faculty members -- especially at research universities -- into collective bargaining. The joint effort resulted in a big win with the unionization of faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago (although the university is challenging the win). Currently, the AFT and AAUP are jointly organizing faculty members at the University of Oregon.

Faculty Senates at two state universities gird for battle

At two universities, professors say administrators are changing the rules in ways that take away faculty power -- at one campus over raising grievance and at the other over intellectual property.

Review of Derrick O'Keefe, "Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?"

Intellectual Affairs

A set of three books landed on my desk last week: the opening salvos in a new series from Verso called Counterblasts. A notice across from each one’s title page announces the intention “to revive a tradition inaugurated by Puritan and Leveller pamphleteers in the 17th century when, in the words of one of their number, Gerard Winstanley, the old world was ‘running up like parchment in the fire.’” Given that Winstanley’s group, the Diggers, was the original Occupy movement, Verso’s timing is excellent -- though any revival of pamphleteering at this late date almost certainly demands a format suitable for rapid dissemination on portable devices. And at extremely low (and probably no) cost.

At least with Counterblasts you get a well-designed artifact for your money. Each volume singles out one of the “politicians, media barons, and their ideological hirelings” serving as “apologists of Capital and Empire,” as the series description calls them, in suitably Puritan-Jacobin tones. The cover is stark black. A photo of the book’s polemical target looms against the backdrop. The aesthetic here resembles "The Charlie Rose Show" (talking heads afloat in the depths of infinite space) although considerably less flattering to the guests. It seems appropriate, then, that the first two Counterblasts are directed at figures who have been prominent in the world of TV punditry.

One is the New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, pictured scowling in concentration, like a bulldog who just swallowed a Styrofoam packing peanut and is now thinking that it might have been a bad idea. The other is Bernard Henri Levy, who, when not playing a philosopher on French television, serves as a celebrity thinker-in-residence at the Huffington Post. As always, he looks marvelous.  

The third figure is Michael Ignatieff, whose picture will be familiar to the Canadian public but ring only the faintest of bells elsewhere. He spent the 1990s as one of England’s most prominent public intellectuals, preparing BBC documentaries and writing books on human rights, civil wars, and humanitarian intervention. He was also the authorized biographer of Isaiah Berlin, whose essays on the history of social  and political thought defined a sort of Anglo-American liberal orthodoxy in recent decades. 

In 2000, Ignatieff became the first director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. A few months later, George W. Bush took office. Each man had barely settled in their new offices before Ignatieff published the first of several efforts to clarify the ethico-political justification for preemptive war against Iraq, given the menace of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

With mission accomplished yet no WMDs in sight, Ignatieff turned his mind to arguing for other reasons why the invasion of Iraq had been a good idea. His book The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (Princeton University Press, 2004) argued, among other things, that torture must be condemned as morally wrong, but hey, what can you do? Desperate times mean desperate measures, and desperate measures require thoughtful casuistry. 

The Lesser Evil appeared at just about the time the pictures from Abu Ghraib did. Nobody in those snapshots was agonizing over nuances of right and wrong, and it didn’t look like the US soldiers were extracting information about ticking time bombs either. They were just having an awful lot of fun. The images would have created an uproar, of course, even if they had worn expressions of pain and doubt. But the way they looked out at the viewer, as if expecting you to give them the high-five, threw Ignatieff’s work in a new context. However much his thinking might be rooted in the precepts of Sir Isaiah, its on-the-ground consequences were degrading for everyone involved.

In 2007, Ignatieff returned to the pages of The New York Times Magazine (where his most widely discussed articles in favor of the war had appeared a few years earlier) to say that he had been wrong ... or misled ... or too much the airy academic ... or not quite so right as he could have been. He admitted that some people argued from the start that the war was a bad idea, but that didn't mean they were proven correct , since they had been right for the wrong reasons. He, at least, had been wrong for the right reasons and clearly must not be expected to learn anything from them.

It was a strange essay, and it left the impression of a mind at the end of its tether, dangling in the wind. But Derrick O’Keefe’s Counterblast volume Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil suggests that his mea culpa was more coherent -- or at least more consistent with the rest of his career -- than it might look.

When Ignatieff returned to Canada in 2005 after almost three decades abroad, it seemed like he was stepping away from the work that had defined him as a public figure. After all, he had made some major interventions in the debates over liberal internationalism, or philanthropic militarism, that unfolded across a distinct period beginning with the first war of Yugoslavia’s disintegration (mid-1991) and ending, more or less, with the second battle of Fallujah (late 2004). He even had the confidence and authority needed to risk defining his position in terms as brutal as any that an opponent might attribute to him: “Imperialism used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it become politically incorrect.”

So wrote Ignatieff in 2003, full of beans. Declarations of imperial mission were not much wanted by 2005, when headhunters from the Liberal Party of Canada lured him away from Harvard. You could not fault him for wanting to reinvent himself. But here was more to it than that.

From the blinkered U.S.-centric perspective, Ignatieff’s departure did not look like forward motion, but the Liberal Party has long been at the very center of Canadian politics (flanked by the Conservatives on the right and the New Democrats to the left, and the dominant force among them). Ignatieff’s return to his homeland was the first step in a serious bid for power. And his mea culpa in the Times was part of it, since the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq never enjoyed much support in Canada.

Besides distancing himself from policies he had once supported -- taking responsibility for them, but not too much responsibility -- Ignatieff also used the essay for another purpose. He explained that leaving the ivory tower behind had rendered him a tough-minded man of the world. In the future he would assume his positions, and choose his words, more carefully. In the meantime, he was making as many references to hockey as circumstances would permit.

Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? makes the case that this newfound discovery of measured responses and realpolitik is just an act, because Ignatieff has been practicing them all along. O'Keefe points out that the Times essay defines politicians as "actors who have to feign indignation and other emotions they do not feel,” while academics “merely play with words and pursue digressions with ideas for their own sake because they are detached from the real-world consequences.” Here, unwarranted generalization yields self-accusation: Ignatieff himself seems to have been one of the very few academics to champion "regime change" in ways "detached from the real-world consequences."  O’Keefe wonders if Ignatieff ever had a moral compass to lose. “It’s not that one can never genuinely change one’s mind,” he writes, “it’s just that there is no trace at all of the humility or regret that would normally accompany such an about face.” It's the portrait of a man saying what the powerful want to hear, as the means to gain power for himself.

While largely persuasive, O'Keefe's indictment is a little too unrelenting. He can barely credit Ignatieff with anything, even with any literary gifts: his books are the work of a “solipsistic cosmopolitan.” But even as a non-admirer of Isaiah Berlin, I’d say Ignatieff’s biography is decent. One of his novels was a finalist for the Booker prize in the early 1990s. And Ignatieff has been called “Canada’s Obama,” which refers in part to their shared facility with a pen, rare among politicians. But the series is called Counterblasts, after all, and sometimes polemic involves taking no prisoners.

Ignatieff became the leader of the Liberal Party in 2009.  Last May, he oversaw what O’Keefe calls “the most catastrophic electoral defeat in the history of the Liberal Party of Canada,” whereupon Ignatieff resigned. That underscores the other reservation I had about the book, which is that both the man and the era he helped shape are now part of history, rather than current events. The next two volumes in the series will address Christopher Hitchens and Tony Judt. The thought of them counter-counterblasting in reply is appealing, but a daydream now that they're gone. The old world, as Winstanley said, is "running up like a parchment in the fire." The series editors should go find some active menaces to take down.

 

Teaching Is Key to Producing More Science Graduates, U.S. Says

Colleges and universities must transform undergraduate education in sciences, math and engineering -- in large part by expanding the reach of "evidence-based teaching approaches" -- if the United States is to meet a goal of producing 1 million more bachelor's and associate degree holders in those fields within a decade, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report issued Tuesday. The report, released in conjunction with a webcast featuring the presidents of the University of Virginia and Anne Arundel Community College and other higher education leaders, is built around evidence that significant numbers of those who enter college inclined to study math and science abandon those plans within the first two years, often citing uninspiring introductory courses or an environment that is "unwelcoming" to some groups.

To overcome those problems and produce more graduates -- which the report joins previous studies in arguing is essential to stimulate economic innovation and feed the U.S. work force -- the report from President Obama's science advisory council calls for catalyzing "widespread adoption" of empirically proven teaching methods in key science courses, establishing discipline-based federal programs to train graduate students and faculty members in those methods, replacing standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses" (and using federal programs to help redesign those courses), closing the "mathematics-preparation gap" that leaves so many students unprepared for college-level science and technical courses, and clearing paths for would-be science and math students from K-12 to community colleges and then to four-year institutions.

The White House's agenda and suggestions overlap significantly with other reports and recommendations made in recent years, including an aggressive push announced last fall by the Association of American Universities.

Academic Minute: Semiotics

In today’s Academic Minute, Michael Mills of the University of Northern Colorado explains the study of semiotics in today’s multicultural environment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Essay on issues facing academics working in the Middle East

Western academics can find good positions and plenty of the comforts they crave (with a better standard of living) far from home, writes William Roden.

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