The hard is what makes it great…

Every year, I watch A League of Their Own when baseball season begins. It’s a remarkable film, and it is exceptionally timely for me now, with my recent struggles for meaning. Usually the part that gets me going is “There’s no crying in baseball.” But this year, this scene spoke to me:

So I have to figure out how to go forward, out of my free fall. No clue how.

But as sentimental as sports movies usually are, in this case, they are right. The hard is what makes it great.

When you have lost the ability to be constructive in race/class/gender discussions

This has never really happened to me before, but I think I may have become so alienated and hurt by the misogyny of the academy that I am no longer constructive.

One wants to work for change, but after getting kicked in the teeth so many time by so many clueless dinosaurs…one just resents every single action or gesture or conversation as either fake, self-serving, or both.

So I sit on the sidelines, rolling my eyeballs all over my head, as people who have no clue what oppression is or how it works talk about how we’re gonna be all diverse now, for sure, that’s the ticket. We’re having conversations. We are making plans.

I’m supposed to clap and support and cheerlead these conversations and plans. This conversation freaking needs me. And I am too tired and too burned out to do it.

How do we fix my heart? How do I cheerlead with a broken heart? Because my heart got broken the last time my male colleagues demeaned me in front of our students. I have no idea why that day was the last straw–Lord knows, I’ve been dismissed and undermined in one meeting after another–but something just broke in me that day, and I can’t get past it.

How does that get fixed?

How do we fix the confidence that I’ve lost because they are always trying to wrest it from me and I just ran out of strength to hold on to it? I just ran out. I should do better; I should ‘lean in’; I should ‘not let anybody hold me back.’ I should be strong.

But I’m empty. I got nothing to give to them or to me, and I am in a free fall. And you’re always telling yourself, when you are focussed on justice, that you have to make the most of those key opportunities, those key windows that occasionally open up to change an institution, however marginally, for the better. And if you don’t have the energy to move when those windows happen, you’ve lost a moment, let the side down.

Marty Wachs on Harvey Perloff

I was over at UCLA last night to see my colleague, Gen Giuliano, give the annual Harvey Perloff lecture. Marty introduced the lecture series with some recollections of Harvey Perloff, who was one of the Luskin School’s early deans, and terribly important to its development. Dean Perloff was unfortunately passed by the time I went to UCLA, but his widow, Mimi, was still there–she lived to 91, and she was wonderful.

I’ll do my best to capture the Harvey Perloff story:

Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, was visiting UCLA, and Harvey was having a conversation with her on the front steps of what is now Perloff Hall. A student called to him from across the courtyard “Hey, Harvey, I need to talk to you about my thesis.”

Dean Perloff–Dean Perloff–turned to Margaret Mead (MARGARET MEAD!) and said, “Excuse me, I need to go talk to a student.” And left her to go talk to his student about his thesis.

Most academics are cut of a different cloth now, I’d say.

JAPA session at #APA16 had a nice turn-out with tough questions asked…

Ok, in full disclosure: everybody else on the panel was super: Rob Olshansky, Michael Holleran, Karl Kim, Jennifer Minner, and Sandi Rosenbloom were all awesome. I generally sucked and rambled about the special issue I have coming out (our target in Spring 2017), but one of my authors, Bonnie Johnson, did a stellar job of discussing her paper on city managers and urban planners.

We got some push-back from the audience, however, about how none of them can access the Journal of the American Planning Association unless they cough up another $50, and they are right. When I used to belong to JAPA regularly–years ago, I admit–the Journal and Planning magazine were available to members, or at least it was a significant discount. Multiple members of the audience said they would like to have the information in JAPA, but subscriptions were too high for them given that they weren’t interested in whole issues. Oh, wait, the fee for members, I just looked, is an addition $38 if you want digital, and $48 if you want print.

One gentleman made the point that I, and a zillion other academics, review for free, I provide content for free…it’s “part of my job” for sure, but Taylor & Francis and Elsevier do not pay me…USC pays me. And then USC has to pay for the journal I provide content for.

This is all by way of saying that people, particularly APA members, should be able to buy single articles for a nominal fee, like $5. Why not? What does it cost publisher, really, to do that once the material has been prepared?

I am not sure. I am largely ignorant of the business of academic publishing, but $30 per article seems pretty high to me, granted the APA is the organization that contracts for the journal in the first place.

Mark Edmundson on campus rape

I’ve been reading through Mark Edmundson’s Why Teach this week, and this paragraph caught my eye:

Colleges are even leery of disciplining guys who have committed sexual assault, or assault plain and simple. Instead of being punished, these guys frequently stay around, strolling the quad and swilling the libations, an affront (and sometimes a terror) to their victims.

This is a chapter where Edmundson has described the consumer universe of the corporate campus. Grade inflation? Looking the other way for cheaters? Come on. When campuses look the other way for felonies, they aren’t going to worry much about the other contours of character formation.

Grad student unions, Rick Perlstein, and the Lawrence Welk Show

Attention Conservation Notice: If academic labor wants to unionize, it is probably better to do so across institutions rather than one-by-one, if the outcomes for so-called “winners in the game” (tenured professors) are any indicator.

Rick Perlstein has been writing about higher education and organizing over at the Nation.

There’s a reason why Perlstein is on a crusade about the academy and is notably silent on his own industry’s exploitation of young writers. The former sells and gets eyes on the page, and the latter would bite the hand that feeds him and possibly irritate an editor. Just as there are hundreds and hundreds of applications for every single tenure track job, there are plenty of young writers lined up to freelance for The Nation. Doctor, heal thyself.

I don’t say that just to throw some shade at Perlstein. It’s more along the lines of: yeah, contemporary capitalism, where all labor is two seconds away from being under the bus.

Perlstein wants to take down the math professor who told students to cross a picket line of adjuncts to get to class, and he wants to castigate a professor for writing an email to his graduate students telling them that their open letter to the department for why they were organizing is a risky career move.

Yes, some misguided souls might note that when a student pays what they do for tuition, offering class despite the picket line can be defended on moral grounds, too, though I personally would not have had students cross the picket line. And still other misguided souls might think that it’s entirely possible to support and organize a grad student union without writing your faculty to rub their noses in it. But, hey, I’m just a patronizing anti-union proffie.

Perlstein’s column includes this bit:

And their dominant tone was that same clueless arrogance we see above. One, a philosophy professor at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast, allowed that while things could be improved, and “I would like to see more tenure-track jobs and fewer adjuncts,” academia was still after all a meritocracy. He argued that “[f]riends like your autodidact”—he was referring to the example I gave of a recent PhD from one of the greatest universities in the world, who wrote brilliantly and insightfully, was a natural-born teacher and applied to a hundred jobs to no avail before realizing “tenured employment is almost unimaginable” because of his undeveloped suck-up skills—“ will slip through the cracks if, despite actual excellence, they can’t muster what the academy considers evidence of excellence…. I think of a tenure-track job like an actor getting a job at a repertory company, or a baseball player being hired to play baseball full-time—there are just too many people lining up to do such jobs to give them to everyone.”

This was supposed to be a defense of the system.

A person more interested in journalism and less interested in scoring points and calling people names would probably get that the original statement was hardly supposed to be a defenseof the system, ours or any other. It was meant to be a description of the cut-throat job market professors live in:

1. Yes, even very talented people do not get the jobs their talents merit.

2. Yes, sucking up is a skill in the academy–the way it is *everywhere*, in every institution;

3. But even if you are talented at both research AND sucking up, it’s entirely possible a person won’t get a tenure-track job which is, apparently, what Perlstein thinks his buddy is entitled to (since when?); and

4. In order to get a tenure-track job, you will have to be extremely lucky; probably move to a highly undesirable location; eat crap during job interviews; and if you are fortunate enough to get a job, you will have to eat crap for many more years as a probationary faculty member.

And, alas,crap-eating doesn’t end with tenure. I’m sorry, but that’s true. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the world. Universities can and do punish unproductive scholars after tenure. Even well-renumerated deans spend all their time sucking up to donors.

Tenure track jobs are not the cushy realm of reflective scholars who stroll with students across the quad pretending to be Aristotle. We are branded, careful to build to and maintain that brand. We divvy out minutes spent with graduate students (and other students) in 15 minute intervals because we are on a production line, and the hour of my time you want means an hour less with my family because if I try to take that hour out of my research time, I will a) get fired if I am assistant professor and b) get unbelievably shitty raises if I am a tenured associate.

We have spent years and years listening to people claim that universities need to be more like businesses, and I just roll my eyes when I hear this. Are you kidding me? Universities are businesses now. Tenure track faculty have watched tenure erode in a matter of about 15 years. It’s over. So all of you who think tenure is the root of all evil can just relax and move on. So calling for an end to tenure is like calling for an end to showing reruns of the Lawrence Welk show on PBS. Eventually, enough of us will die off, replaced by people without tenure, and by people who have no interest in polkas.

Professor’s wages, too, have fallen in real terms, or in some segments of the markets, grown very slowly.

The demands for getting, and keeping, a full-time faculty job go up, up, up, every single year.

And all the above happened…with unions for faculty in many institutions. Now, maybe it would all be so much worse without unions. But…solidarity means what, exactly, in a world where companies like Microsoft openly say they won’t hire fresh-outs, and half or more of our professional school graduates work in free internships for multiple years?

All that said, fine. I’ll honor the picket line. If there’s a chance unions help get benefits, wages, and limits on working conditions, I’m in. But I doubt it. But I’d also sure be happy to be wrong. I strongly suspect that adjuncts in some markets fare way better than adjuncts in oversupplied urban markets, and so organizing across institutions might actually be a better strategy than organizing at individual institutions, so that the leverage in one location could help at others.

Proffies as drug lords versus the small stakes

Attention conservation notice: Dual labor markets are interesting, but why it took people this long to notice it in the academy is a bit beyond me.

A blog post that has gotten a lot of play comes from Alexandre Afonso: How Academia Resembles A Drug Gang. The original post is intelligent and insightful, and actually captures the intellectual basis of the Leavitt and Venkatesh paper about drug lords: a dual labor market with very high risks and high rewards–but only for a select few. The point of Leavitt and Venkatesh’s original paper was economic theory; you could show that members who entered drug gangs were operating according to predictable rules of micro theory and agents in labor markets with imperfect information. The problem concerned information about future states and desert. Since a great deal depends on luck and hitting the right connections, many people in both academic and drug gang labor markets wind up not achieving desert, where their marginal productivity is reflected in wages, working conditions, or other compensation. Instead, many wind up earning much less than their talents and effort suggest they should.Read More »

What Helen Dargas at UVa could learn from Rage Against the Machine

So unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve watched the media firestorm surrounding the firing of UVa President, Teresa Sullivan. There’s been a ton of writing on subject, including this shot from Siva Vaidhyanathan in Slate. Since then, University of Virginia rector, Helen Dargas, has been blathering on in various apologies in the media. People have used the episode to illustrate everything from corporate control over state institutions (shocking!) to the higher education “bubble”.

I have to admit, I don’t understand the idea of the ‘bubble’. I get that it’s possible that university educations cost too much and the financial value of a college education can fall…but hasn’t that already happened with all the youth unemployment?

States have already pulled back so much of their support for places like UVa I don’t even know why they are allowed to appoint overseers. It’s like me owning 7 percent of a company.

I know we’re all supposed to be trembling in our boots of the Mighty Republicans and their plans to reform to higher education, but what will really affect higher education are the demographic changes in the market–there aren’t going to be as many young Americans going to college any more–and income equality. When people don’t have any real wage growth, they can’t afford a lot of things. Like college for their kids. (Class warfare, class warfare, socialist! Even discussing inequality is UNAMERICAN, even if you are still discussing business). We’ve known this for some time: there’s a reason why places like Stanford and Harvard have been working so hard to re-enforce a global brand for their universities.

American higher education is changing, no doubt, but the University of Virginia was one of the select few of public universities–like Berkeley and Michigan–that was going to be able to survive state zero-funding of higher education. It wasn’t Ivy–but it was close enough that it could have weathered that change–yes, the change to becoming an entirely private institution–pretty well. It had its own pedigree, like Harvard—the touch of Renaissance conveyed by founder, Thomas Jefferson.

Dargas and her clumsiness damaged the brand. They took the shine off the place. Rage Against the Machine made a lot of money for a lot of people selling an anti-establishment image. Selling an anti-establishment image. Selling. What UVa has to sell is a great history, an amazing tradition, and a superb faculty.

Liberal arts, by the way, are important to that brand. There is a reason that Yale hasn’t ditched their classics department, and it’s not because classics professors are so darn powerful.

So instead of retaining that image, building on it, and ousting a president they didn’t like quietly, Dargas and her buddies ousted a popular president and now has the world looking at the UVa as the same management as the University of Phoenix. Brilliant move. I assume they had their business school golden boy all picked out. Good luck installing him cleanly now.

I’m not snobby, btw; the University of Phoenix serves a market niche, very well. But the UVa niche was different. Presidents come and go–marks on your reputation, in this world, are harder to erase. A public relations foible of the first order.