For the Future of Higher Ed, Fire the Gig Economy

According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, as many as 70 percent of college professors are part-time. Adjuncts are often the focus of contract-to-contract work in higher ed, but this statistic includes postdocs, visiting professors, fellows, and a variety of other distinctions. This lack of job security and the scarcity of tenured positions doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is part of larger trends in our labor market that value short-term contracts and freelance work.

The gig economy is often excused or valorized as something independent and ambitious millennials want. It’s seen as part of a new work culture that prioritizes new horizons and new experiences. What it offers is precarity.

Herb Childress talks about how the gig economy has impacted higher education in an April 16, 2019, interview in Inside Higher Ed. This interview follows the publication of his most recent book, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission. “Higher ed is a component of a larger culture that accepts gig work as a norm,” he explained, “that protects consumers but not workers, that devalues work done by women, that faces fundamental demographic shifts and a 30-year population trough on the heels of a gigantic boom.”

Impermanent work — the kind that lacks professional development, job security, time to reflect on teaching, time to collaborate on meaningful research — produces worn out professors and uninspired students who aren’t learning. It undermines the purpose and mission of higher education.

I worked as an English adjunct at Bluefield State College for several years while working as a full-time journalist to support my “teaching habit.” Bluefield just beginning to offer classes in Beckley at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center alongside two or three other universities. I was the first teacher in this new building.  I had no support staff, administrative assistant, or secretary. My first semester there, I had no access to a printer and no one I could contact if I experienced technical difficulties. I felt completely alone and adrift on an open sea of academia. I carried dry erase markers in my purse. When students needed to meet with me I met them in the lobby and we wandered around until we found an unoccupied room where we could talk privately.

So, I felt unsupported, but I also felt like no one would care if I showed up or not. But I have conflicting feelings because I also found the work some of the most rewarding I’ve ever done. The students, many of whom were first-generation, valued education I was trusted with developing new and more challenging classes. I had complete domain over what classes I taught and when (which was very helpful because I had to schedule them around my other day job).

Despite the positive aspects, it just wasn’t sustainable for me. I worked a job that often required extra time and I could be called to the scene of a crime or a fire at any time, and I was grading papers for as many as 120 students in three classes. Having already done adjunct work, I know how exhausting it is. I know I can’t do gig work long term.

But my point is that this sickness isn’t unique to higher education. Higher education won’t change until we stop valuing gig labor over all else and begin seeing employees has having individual and intrinsic worth.

Childress perhaps says it best: “We have to think of higher ed as a community to which we belong and to which we welcome others. We need to stop treating any of our members as expendable — not the 25 percent of freshmen whom we expect will never become sophomores, not the graduate students teaching on the cheap and running labs, not the postdocs laboring unseen as fourth authors on papers, not the adjuncts teaching first-year and remedial students and transfer/general education courses while the tenured get the upper-division majors and grad students for themselves. We are not business products with an expected amount of process waste: we are whole, beloved, intelligent people invested with every possibility.”

Source:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/04/16/herb-childress-discusses-his-new-book-adjunct-underclass

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Metasis of a Museum-goer

From the moment our Material Culture and Public Humanities class entered the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, on March 29, 2019, our bodies moved within the space based on perceived roles and the configuration of the museum lobby and gallery spaces. Through a process informed by individual experience, the construction of gallery spaces, and our bodies in proximity to art on display, we transformed from person-on-the-street to museum-goer to interpreter-as-worker.

The Taubman Museum lobby’s interior facing the front entrance and information desk. Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

Upon entering, our class gathered around the information desk, bunching almost comically in a vast, nearly empty lobby. An employee welcomed us, gave us information about what art we would find, and oriented us to the space itself. In that moment, we became museum-goers. There is a mental shift that occurs when ordinary people become museum-goers. Museum-goers have an expectation that what they find in a museum is significant enough to be displayed and the act of display itself invites interpretation.

Margaret Lindauer describes a “critical museum visitor” as one who is concerned with the “visual, written, and spacial features of an exhibit.” I’d argue that any museum-goer is always already primed to be a critical museum visitor, regardless of the salience of their critique.

Lindauer calls the critical museum visitor’s attention to the architecture of the museum itself. The Taubman has pronounced angles, large windows, and concrete walls that are combined in a way one might expect from mid-century modern. Large diamond-shaped windows, lit at night, bring to mind the Louvre. Its architecture is what one expects from a modern museum that includes art and installations from all periods.

A view of the Roanoke skyline from the second story of the Taubman Museum. Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

A critical museum visitor, argues Lindauer, is also one who understands how the space reveals who the institution’s “ideal visitor” is. She defines an ideal visitor as “one who would be ideologically and culturally at home in the exhibition or politically comfortable with the information that is presented.” All visitors to the Taubman have a second-story view of Roanoke’s historic district and vintage, rooftop advertisements. Visitors are even invited to visit the museum’s third story for the expressed purpose of taking in this view.

This juxtaposition and amalgamation of historic and artistic, brick and glass, horizontal and angled, and new and old signal that an ideal museum visitor has an appreciation for historic preservation. Moreover, the ideal museum visitor believes in the urban redevelopment process that incorporates the arts as part of revitalization efforts. In this way, museum visitors are meant to recognize the relevance and importance of the past for the future of Roanoke.

Inside the galleries, museum-goers transform into interpretive laborers in a corporate environment. Bob Trotman’s exhibit, Business as Usual, has a strong and purposeful effect on its audience. According to the information about the exhibit on display, the catch phrase business as usual “reflects the implacable force of profit-making which lies at the heart of corporate culture and much government policy.” His work is meant to reflect broad themes of “power, privilege, and greed.”

The sculptures are varied in color and size. Some hang from the ceiling and others seem to be pushing up from the ground. The impact this has on a visitor is instantaneous. There is no obvious direction for visitors to take, no ordering of sculptures. When visitors enter the space, I observed that most moved toward the right side and followed an oval trajectory around the space.

From the entrance to the gallery, visitors see the variety of sculptures and media used by artist Bob Trotman in his exhibit “Business as Usual.” Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

As visitors move into the space, motion sensors awaken sculptures. This is jarring and unexpected at first, but then I found myself waiting to see how a sculpture might come to life. And as I moved through the space, more and more sculptures began moaning, groaning, clicking, thumping, flowing, pouring, and tapping.

This first video clip is of a sculpture called “Waiter”(2014). Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

The second clip shows two sculptures. The first is “Claptocracy” (2019) and second is “Fountain” (2014), both of which are part of Trotman’s exhibit titled “Business as Usual” at the Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

Trotman’s website states that his statues are meant to reflect a tradition of carved religious figures and ships’ mastheads. His work uses this tradition to satirize power and privilege. In the way that his carvings perform, they also satirize the museum-going experience. The large, vast, minimal, and quiet space of the museum lobby is drastically different from this gallery space in which his anguished, fearful, and angry workers make noises that echo off the white walls.

Once deep inside the gallery with many of the sculptures moving and making noise, I felt unsettled and anxious. I found myself confused, not knowing what direction to look, and moving my head quickly to find the origins of a new noise. It simulates the experience of working in a corporate, cubicled environment. It immediately brought to mind the sounds of computers clicking, telephones ringing, muffled conversations, drawers opening and closing, and papers being shuffled. The sounds within the gallery mock or magnify the sounds you might hear in a corporate environment and function to make strange the sounds of the corporate office by recreating them (not recreating the exact sounds, but recreating relative sounds). In this way the critical museum visitor becomes a worker, feeling physically overwhelmed by trying to isolate and understand individual sculptures.

“White Men” (2015) hang from the ceiling in postures that suggest a forceful forward motion. Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

From the back of the gallery, with sounds coming from every direction, viewers see the back of “White Men” (2015) and “Martin” (2008) kneeling in front on the left. These sculptures by Bob Trotman are part of the exhibit “Business as Usual” at Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

In addition to sound and movement, Trotman’s sculptures change in other ways as you move through the space. It is surprising to see “White Men” (2015), which exhibits power and forward force, is hollow. These men are even more dehumanized from the back. From the front they are faceless in the generality of their features and the repetition of those features. From the back they are mere silhouettes. Empty.

One of Bob Trotman’s sculptures, “Martin” (2008) looks more disturbing from the back than the front. His bare feet and posture, from the rear, suggest he might be executed. Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

This sculpture titled “Martin” (2008) also seems more sinister from the back. From the front he is a corporate worker pleading or falling to his knees from exhaustion. From the rear, the viewer sees him positioned as if for an execution. His bare feet remove him from the corporate context provided by his clothes. Viewers ask, “If this man is no longer in an office, where is he?” Our minds suggest he could be a political prisoner or a man condemned.

Another way “Business as Usual” is displayed differently than other gallery spaces is that there are no benches inside. Most galleries had small wooden benches (although the permanent collection had several plush, black pleather benches) positioned to allow visitors the opportunity to sit and consider works of art.

There is no tranquil contemplation in “Business as Usual.” Visitors are not invited to linger but are instead meant to become uncomfortable by the sounds, movements, sizes disparities, and physical contortions of the sculpture subjects.

As viewers exit the gallery, it is obvious that we were not meant to relax. Visitors clock out of the exhibit using a time card that reads “Your work is my business.” Visitors to the exhibit are on the clock and each time a visitor clocks out, one last resounding “thump” echos through the museum corridor. Trotman mockingly draws back the curtain on museum curation, revealing museum visitors as interpretive workers whose time and energy benefit the artist himself and the museum as an institution.

As critical museum visitors, our work is interpretation. Individual sculptures in “Business as Usual” offer plenty for visitors to interpret, but the space and nature of its display (especially in contrast to the museum lobby and architecture) controls our visit, our movements, and our interpretations.

Museum-goers who leave the “Business as Usual” exhibit are invited to grab a time card and clock out. Taubman Museum, Roanoke, VA. March 2019.

Sources:

Margaret Lindauer, “The Critical Museum Visitor.” In New Museum Theory and Practice, edited by Janet Marstine, 203-225. Blackwell, 2006.

“Taubman Museum of Art.” www.taubmanmuseum.org (retrieved April 2, 2019).

Trotman, Bob. “bob trotman.” www.bobtrotman.com (retrieved April 2, 2019).

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Inclusivity as Philosophy

During a March 25 seminar, “Preparing the Future Professoriate” with Dr. Karen DuPauw, Dean of the Graduate School, discussed prioritizing using the word inclusivity over diversity. She said that if a college or university focuses on inclusion they probably will get more diverse. Inclusivity, she added, focuses on creating a welcoming environment while diversity focuses on quantifying physical features.

I find this idea of inclusion as a philosophy to be really helpful, especially for a white person. Some might consider philosophy as a discipline of inaction (or of thought alone), but I believe that our philosophies guide our principals, motivations, and actions. Therefore, if we grow, define, and commit to our philosophies about inclusion, they will guide our actions.

Diversity, as a concept, seems to be focused, not just on physical features, but on managing and accounting for women, people of color, people of differing abilities, and other markers of diversity. It feels like managing people or making marginalized individuals responsible for creating and maintaining diversity.

And not only does it put the responsibility on individuals who are generally excluded, it isn’t inherently concerned with the climate or culture of the activity, space, department, or university. It feels like a numbers game, and maybe that is because diversity has so long been linked with numbers.

Sara Ahmed talks about her experience doing diversity work in university settings in Living a Feminist Life. She says that often we utilize the language of diversity but that it doesn’t always translate into something experienced: “Indeed, equality and diversity can be used as masks to create the appearance of being transformed” (90).

To use a mixture of Dean DuPauw’s and Ahmed’s language, thinking about inclusiveness as a philosophy is transformative rather than creating a mask of being transformed. More than that, it asks those of us who have the privilege of taking up space to shift to the side to allow space for others. An inclusive philosophy makes whites, men, able-bodied, and heterosexual people equally (if not mostly) responsible for changing their mindset and actions, which in turn change the cultural climate.

Source:

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

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Putting Smartphones To Work

Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

 

Having already blogged about efforts to overhaul curriculum in Texas through online courses, I’m taking the opportunity to look at and respond to some ideas about using technology in class, specifically smartphones.

I feel like I’ve used technology in many ways while teaching, from google docs for collaborative work to GIS mapping as a way to offer students artifacts and information. Smartphones, however, remain a challenge for me to integrate. For that reason, I turned to the internet to dig up some ideas on how to use. Nine ideas for using smartphones in class are outlined in a January 2, 2017, article from the Center for Digital Education: research, Twitter, social media, text messaging, calendars, discussion forums, student response systems, photos and videos, and audio recording.

I thought the article’s suggestions regarding research, Twitter, and audio recording were most interesting. The article suggests having student do quick, real-time research on their smartphones. I think this would be awesome, and something I could easily add to the group work I already have them do. They could take a moment to find an interesting article or interpretation to bring up to the class during our class-wide discussion. This may also be a good time to talk to students about how they can find quality research.

The article also suggests using Twitter as a place to post due dates or track hashtags on a particular topic. As I consider how best to teach HUM 1324 online over the summer, this is something I will seriously consider. I first got serious with Twitter when I began working as a reporter. I would often live tweet meetings that were of great public interest or when I covered state government. People loved it and were really interactive. I’d love to have students tweet while they were reading one of the two novels we read during class.

As far as using Twitter to announce assignments, meh. All of that is on the syllabus. There is A LOT of information students need on there and I’m not a fan of beginning to direct them away from it. They need to be pointed there. I know they don’t look at it closely. I know I have to say “it’s on the syllabus” a million times a semester. But I don’t see Twitter as a better option. It is just another place for students to look. I send updates and reminders via canvas to their emails. I assume they already have to open their email every day. I think a reminder text would be really awesome in this regard, but I think it is creepy to ask students for their numbers or What’s Up App info. Is it creepy? I’m even old enough to remember using the phone book like crazy, and I still think having people’s cellphone numbers is a bit creepy.

Lastly, I assign a creative project as the final assignment in my HUM 1324 class, and many make a short film or record a song they wrote. I would like to find ways to use more audio or video making in the classroom. I don’t particularly want my lectures to be recorded, but I could see students responding to readings via video.

OK, hivemind. What ideas do you have to incorporate smartphones into the classroom?

Source:

http://www.govtech.com/education/news/cellphones-in-classrooms-part-2.html

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It’s time to address economic privilege in college admissions.

 

A story broke today that may have a major impact on higher education. A slew of wealthy individuals have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for participating in fraudulent behavior surrounding their children’s college admissions applications.

According to the Justice Department, clients paid a man named William Rick Singer between $250,000 and $6.5 million to do all manner of things to improve the applications — fabricate test scores, fake other records, and even Photoshop or stage photos to make their kids seem like elite athletes.

Crazy, right? I know. Check out the story for yourself here: www.aspenpublicradio.org/post/us-accuses-actresses-others-fraud-massive-college-admissions-scandal.

This is shocking, but there is a longstanding tradition of kids getting into college, not on their own merit, but because their parents wrote their admissions essay or because they are “legacy” recruits at Ivy Leagues.

We talked some in class about the ways in which economic privilege helps students get into college, like being able to pay to take the SAT multiple times or hiring a private tutor to help study. Yes, this stuff is outright lying and fraudulent. It is illegal, criminal. But I’d argue it comes from a long tradition of people using money to influence higher education admissions, including alumni who make very significant donations and expect their children to attend. Is a large donation any morally different than hiring someone to lie on an application? Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right.

This is the kind of culture that gives higher education a bad name. How can we have the trust of the public if they see this kind of privilege play out in both legal and illegal ways? And we wonder why the public thinks of university professors and administrators as elitist.

It is high time that Ivy League legacy admissions comes to an end, and universities that conduct alumni interviews as part of the admission process (where alumni interview prospective students and their recommendation carries significant weight) need to reconsider the biases that explicit in using alumni for this task rather than a trained administrator. (There are currently some lawsuits against Harvard claiming several alumni interviewers were biased against Asian applicants: www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/affirmative-action-lawsuit-against-harvard-judge-s-hands-n971776.)

Maybe the most radical response to the most recent fraud charges will be admissions no longer relying so heavily on those aspects of the application that CAN be faked — test scores. Maybe applications should focus on formal interviews and require sample submissions of high school work. Maybe students should write their essays in a controlled environment on campus? Or face-to-face or Skype interviews should be conducted between potential students and admissions officers (not alumni).

We need to believe that everyone who attends a college or university has gotten there on their own merit. If that is not true, it calls into question our research, our relationship with the public, and the quality of our degrees.

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Memory Objects: Considering the animation of memory, material, and joy in Jose Lugo Arroyo’s sculptures.

Sculptor Don Jose Lugo Arroyo spent years carving and fashioning nearly 100 tableaus that depict scenes from his childhood — life for cane workers in Puerto Rico in the 1930s and 1940s. His carvings range in size from around 3 inches tall to around a foot in height. His daughter Sonia Badillo explained that many of his earlier carvings are smaller. Don Jose began making them larger, painting them, making the figures more detailed once his wife started saving and preserving them.

This image shows a portion of Don Jose Lugo’s collection of carvings. The miniatures are grouped together on shelves by categories like chores, working sugarcane, pastimes, and religion.

In the most obvious way, these sculptures are memory objects, which Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1989) describes as functioning to “materialize internal images, and through them, to recapture earlier experiences.” Don Jose made these objects to capture and illustrate his personal memories. But Don Jose said he was remembering his younger days in Puerto Rico while carving them. The objects are both the product of remembering and physical manifestations of memory.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (using the work of Ray Faust) notes the memory objects bring moments of the past into the future when the items are displayed and viewed in one’s living space. Looking at Don Jose’s collection, viewers feel the sense of the past converging with the present, especially because we have the opportunity to ask Don Jose about his work. The presence of the creator adds almost another layer, offering viewers the tableau memory, the memories in juxtaposition to our contemporary understandings, and these objects as touchstones to access additional information from Done Jose’s memories.

Sonia explained that her father go into the room in which these works are displayed and uses them to think about his childhood. In this way, the memory objects are tiny moments in time frozen for observation. On the other, they are used to reawaken and recall the past.

This miniature, made by Jose Lugo Arroyo, depicts a man feeding chickens and is positioned on a shelf with other scenes categorized as “Doing the Chores.”

For Susan Stewart, the miniature, as a genre, functions to magnify and increase the importance of the object as well as has the ability to make its context remarkable. Certainly, this is true for Don Jose’s collection. The moments he captures are moments of everyday life, like feeding the chickens. This is a moment that would not be as difficult for a younger audience to understand (whereas some of depictions require explanation). And yet, despite its familiarity, the miniature form asks viewers to lean in. It casts a magnifying glass over an everyday action. It draws our attention to the tiniest details of the action — the position of the figure’s left arm as if he is sprinkling grain, the chicken legs positioned as if they are moving forward in a flurry.

The context and positioning of the miniatures in Don Jose’s collection also magnify their meaning. They are grouped in sub-collections or ensembles based on categories. The man feeding chickens is part of a grouping called “Doing the Chores.”

The man feeding the chickens is center in this grouping categorized as “Doing the Chores.” Other chores depicted by Jose Lugo Arroyo’s carving are cooking, sweeping, and milking a cow.

Taken together — women cooking, milking a cow, sweeping the floor, feeding animals, churning butter — the carvings have a more clear purpose. In their grouping, we get a sense they are meant to help viewers make sense of the memories and provide categories that help viewers understand daily life. It is the grouping and categorizing that helps these memory objects function as objects that educate  about daily life in 1930s and 1940s Puerto Rico.

For Stewart, the miniature inherently causes the viewer to focus on the materials themselves. She notes that the text and functionality of miniature books are stripped away and the focus becomes what the books are made of and the skill displayed in their making.

Don Jose’s skill to create these scenes is on display alongside the miniatures, especially the way he captures movement and expression in human forms. The material is also on display, especially those moments of difference when he uses something besides wood.

Here Jose Lugo Arroyo depicts a cockfight (front) among other pastimes. The roosters are made, not out of wood like his other sculptures, but out of palm leaves.

I was instantly drawn to his depiction of a cockfight because the material used was different than most of his sculptures. Here he used palm leaves, and it so aptly captures the movement, kinetic energy, and feather details of the roosters.

Often works of art that depict the past are considered in terms of nostalgia. Inherent in how we culturally understand the word nostalgia is a sense of sadness that comes from longing for something past. It’s important to stress that Don Jose does not verbally express any sadness about the past. He said he felt happy carving the miniatures and feels happy now looking at them. And there is an overwhelming sense of hopefulness in his work in that they capture small moments of joy alongside depictions of hard work.

In Jose Lugo Arroyo’s sculpture called “Coconut Drink,” the coconut is the main character.

In “Coconut Drink,” for instance, we see a celebration of the coconut. It depicts the celebration of the thing itself.  One coconut is broken open to show the milk inside. We see the action and method needed to break it open. And we see how it can be drunk from the shell itself. The men seem almost secondary in the sculpture, which celebrates the coconut.

Don Jose is also a painter and Sonia was kind and gracious enough to allow a group of material culture students to wander through their home and look at artwork hung throughout the house. Among the paintings, one photograph captured my imagination. The photo is of a large-scale nativity Don Jose made from felled trees and objects they cleaned up at his Puerto Rican home after Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

This is a photograph of a large-scale nativity scene created by Jose Lugo Arroyo from felled trees after Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

This image maybe best speaks to the inherent hopefulness I see reflected through his collection of sculptures. Even in the aftermath of a frightening storm, Don Jose created a sculpture and scene that (in the most novice of interpretations) is about rebirth, beginnings, and hopefulness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Objects of Memory: Material Culture as Life Review.” In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: A Reader, ed. Elliott Oring (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1989), 329-338.

Susan Stewart, “The Miniature” from On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, pp. 37-69. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.

With additional background information about Don Jose Lugo Arroyo and his collection from:

Julián Antonio Carrillo, “Fieldworker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History in Wood and Words,” in Folklore, Art, and Aging, edited by Jon Kay, 55-79. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.

 

 

 

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Where Digital Dreams Go To Die?: A look at one university’s foray into curriculum overhaul.

In a March 4, 2019, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “How UT-Austin’s Bold Plan for Reinvention Went Belly Up: The rise and fall of one research university’s attempt to shake up undergraduate education,” Lindsay Ellis traces the attempted implementation of a radically redesigned curriculum.

Project 2021 was meant to be a five-year plan to create SMOC (synchronous massive online classes) at UT-Austin headed by research/professor James Pennebaker, who had success with his online students by testing them each and every class. His small survey showed that repeated testing in an online class “narrowed grade disparities between students from different socioeconomic groups in an introductory psychology course.”

Ultimately the benefit of studio-quality videos and frequent testing was called into question during the two years the school tried to implement the program. (The program was abandoned after the second year.) Not all classrooms showed improved results.

What I found most interesting about this article were the struggles Pennebaker faced attempting to radically change how students take classes. He found that many of his plans — like offering smaller, one-credit classes for students needing a prerequisite — set off a chain reaction that involved almost every administrative office, including financial aid.

Pennebaker said he thought he knew how the university functioned, but this project showed him how little he knew.

And, quite frankly, the article suggests there was a lack of communication between the Project 2021 crew and the vision expressed by the university. The article describes members of the project watching a university address to try to understand what the president’s vision for the project was.

Moreover, the university just wasn’t willing to invest the kind of capital the project needed to effect change without knowing if it would ultimately work.

Many of us have ideas about how the university might better serve students and professors, but this article is a good dose of realism. Drastic change can’t happen without all offices and departments moving together (and that might be like herding cats). But even if the university had a clear vision and plan, changing how universities offer courses would be something that takes a long, long time.

 

Source:

www.chronicle.com/interactives/Project2021?cid=wsinglestory_hp_1a

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Open Access: [Insert Clickbait Headline Here]

 

 

It’s hard (and feels wrong) to criticize the open access movement. The push for findings and reports stemming from federally funded research to be available to all seems like a no-brainer. In this case, the issue is less about access in the digital age and more about the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to benefit from the use of public funds.

Some of the other issues surrounding open access, however, are less clear. In her 2017 article for EdSurge, Jessica Leigh Brown sums up one of the central concerns with open access publishing in her title “Will ‘Publish or Perish’ Become ‘Clicks or Canned’?” In her article she addresses the recent increase in academic social networks — networks where scholars can upload their own work and read/cite the work of others.

In an ideal world, an open and free interchange of ideas would be amazing. Within the confines of cognitive and digital capitalism, it is concerning. The traditional journal publication goes through a series of revisions and peer reviews. Although daunting and stressful, this process improves the work. Especially for us humanities-types, it helps us hone our argument and clarify confusing passages.

Brown’s title suggests that traditional publishing prior to tenure could be replaced with quantifying your paper’s “reach” or number of citations (or number of “likes”?). According to Brown, uploading research to Academia.edu results in a 69 percent increase in citations over five years. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of introducing market demand to academia. Doesn’t this push scholars into feeling like they have to center their research around the newest, hottest theories? Working less within their own interests and insights and more in the realm of what they think will be popular? I don’t know any academic who wants to cater to the whims of social interest.

More than this, what if our position as scholars (and perhaps our tenure) relied more on how often our article were read, clicked on, or cited? Obviously open internet access (without going through a library system) will increase citation. But using these as measures for tenure will lead to the same issues currently facing journalism today — clickbait headlines, sensation over importance, and lots of quickly produced product over fewer quality articles.

Let me be clear. I’m a fan of open access. But we simply can’t allow open access to become a playground for capitalism, where the pressures to self-publish online increases exponentially because the value of the product had decreased. In an online realm without editors and peers to review papers before they go online, how can students or other scholars trust the authors’ interpretations of texts or citations? What kind of quality assurance is there?

I’d prefer there to be a system that forces critical engagement through the writing process prior to papers made available for free online. There exists thousands of books self-published on amazon that might have been interested and good had they gone through a traditional editorial process. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how much access you have to research if it isn’t good research.

In addition to quality control, what remains to be seen is how academic social networks will impact the way we, as scholars compete, for jobs and verify our worth.

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Professors and Protests and Picket Lines, Oh My!

(Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune
The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rallies in front of Foellinger Auditorium in Urbana on Feb. 26, 2018. (www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-university-of-illinois-strike-20180225-story.html)

 

“A Statement on Graduate Students,” outlines the rights and freedoms afforded to graduate students, including the right to academic freedom, employment rights for research and teaching assistants, and the right to be free from unconstitutional discrimination at work in the university. The statement was adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 2000.

The fact that this standard exists and offers graduate students the same kinds of protection relating to academic inquiry as faculty is somewhat remarkable. I know the AAUP has a longstanding commitment to academic freedom, but seeing that extended to graduate students validates the graduate student’s position as often one of the future professoriate.

The existence of these standards, however, doesn’t mean they are universally upheld or enforced. Over the past several years, the news has been filled with stories about graduate students fighting for better stipends or struggling to unionize.  And there are many issues — like academic hazing — that isn’t addressed by the statement.

I was drawn to one specific section of the statement under Recommended Standards No. 1: “they (graduate students) should be able to express their opinions freely about matters of institutional policy, and they should have the same freedom of action in the public political domain as faculty members should have.” I’m especially interested in “freedom of action in the public political domain as faculty members should have.” There’s a lot packed into that sentence.
This standard is especially relevant to scholars who write for public audience, like public historians. It pertains to professors who are called upon by news outlets to comment on current events or who participate in direction action protest, like Emily Satterwhite’s 14-hour lock-down at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site (https://www.roanoke.com/photo/photos-tech-professor-locks-self-to-mountain-valley-pipeline-construction/collection_b4ec55ad-77d1-54c5-a0a1-dec140b67443.html).

The standards state that graduate students are afforded the same freedom as faculty members “should have.” It is unclear if graduate student freedom is based on university-level policies that address faculty behavior. It also suggests, because faculty “should have” freedom in the public political sphere, that many do not. As a graduate student, if I’m at a university where faculty do not have this freedom, I’d assume I also do not have it.

Being forced to assume or suss out an unspoken policy is a problem. This kind of public political action is not address in the “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” and doesn’t seem to be clearly addressed at very many universities at the university level. (Places like Berea College have a protest tradition, and the university often provides funding for students to travel and participate in large-scale protests.) I can make assumptions about Virginia Tech’s position based on how Virginia Tech allowed Satterwhite to act as a private citizen, which she clearly said she was in several interviews. As the role of the university shifts (and more private-public partnerships are created, like the Amazon venture in northern Virginia) how will this impact the faculty and graduate students’ freedom to exist and vocalize in the public political domain?
Beyond the question of direct action outside the context of our research and expertise, what about graduate students whose research addresses social and political topics or organizations? And can we expect (in the context of future job interviews) to be asked questions about our personal political lives if our research focuses on political groups?Or if we’ve participated in a public political forum?

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Academic Misconduct: Is time-out enough?

In 2017, Dr. Brandi M Baughman was conducting research with the National Institutes of Health. An Office of Research Integrity (ORI) case summary states that Dr. Baughman admitted to committing research misconduct while working on a project supported by a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant.

The ORI report states that she falsified data 11 times within the research.

This academic retracted her 2016 paper and agreed to be supervised for 3 years and to avoid serving on the U.S. Public Health Service board, committee, review committee or as a consultant for the same number of years.

I was drawn to this case because I immediately noticed Dr. Baughman was also listed at a respondent in a 2018 case.

The most recent case, which notes her affiliation as a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Recovery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, states that she again participated in research misconduct.

In the 2018 case, the ORI found she renamed and reused images from an unrelated experiment from 2013.

What is most striking to me about this case is the depth of misconduct. So often I think of misconduct as plagiarism, which can happen so easily by accident — forgetting to use quotation marks or using a phrase without realizing it came from one of your many readings. I’m not excusing plagiarism, but I have so many texts at play and work from so many notes, I could understand how it might happen, especially from someone who is disorganized.

But the Baughman case involves purposely skewing scientific findings and using old images as if they are part of a new study. This is an obvious case of knowing and purposefully doing something unethical.

I’m also struck by the fact that this occurred while Baughman was conducting research for the federal government and was being supported by a number of government grants. It is unclear how the misconduct was discovered, but I hope government funding agencies have staff that can provide oversight to uncover this misconduct. It is frustrating that, not only does her research greatly impact the public’s health, she was misusing public funds. It is upsetting in ways that seem more diabolical because public health is on the line.

I also find it fascinating that even though Dr. Baughman was exposed, she went on to serve as a post doctoral fellow at UNC Chapel Hill, a university recovering from its own controversy over alleged bogus or fake classes offered by the African and Afro-American Studies department to benefit student athletes.

To what extent should professors who commit some kind of academic misconduct or fraud connected to their research be allowed to continue to teach and publish? Should the ramifications be more strict? Why would a university knowingly hire someone with a track record of misconduct?

Sources:

https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-baughman-brandi-m

https://ori.hhs.gov/case-summary-baughman-brandi

https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/unc-scandal

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