Category Archives: Preparing the Future Professoriate

Blog posts related to the Preparing the Future Professoriate Course, GRAD 5104.

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.”



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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.


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?



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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:

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:

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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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.




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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 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. (


“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 (

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?



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“So, what is it you do?”: The most dreaded question of our lives.


Maybe you’re at a family function, or maybe you run into someone you graduated high school with. Inevitably you’ll be asked, “So, what do you do?”

I’ve sidestepped the question by vaguely muttering that I’m “back in school,” especially when I’m around people that don’t hold college degrees. I don’t want to seem “too big for my britches.” Sometimes I avoid mentioning that I’m in a PhD or doctoral program because I don’t want to explain that there are different doctors, and that I’m going to school to be the kind of doctor that doesn’t practice medicine. I don’t want to be perceived as talking down to anyone.

With these kinds of obstacles, how can I begin to explain my research to the public, especially when I revert to glossing over the general areas using those meaningless phrases we academics use with each other — radical ecology, aesthetics, ritual studies, moral economy.

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and Alda’s method, which help scientist communicate their work to the broader public, are commendable and important. There is certainly a socio-political undercurrent in the United States that distrusts science. This is a needed and exciting service.

But I can’t help wondering why the service is only directed toward scientists. It’s as if it is assumed that we humanities and arts types know how to communicate the complexities of our research to the public. Or maybe our disciplines seem less useful to the general public: “You read objects like texts? What is the point?”

I’ve been working on my “elevator pitch” about my research, but that is about quickly conveying my ideas to other academics. I want to be able to talk to friends and family about my research and be able to articulate why it matters. I’m still working on it. And I need to keep working on why I’m so hesitant to release details about what degree I’m working toward.

I think my ASPECT cohort is well suited to help each other with this problem. Our research is so disparate, we often talk across disciplines to each other — like explaining that we mean ontological in terms of history, not political science. We could do a better job of asking each other questions and making sure that we really understand each other’s research, and by doing so, helping each other articulate it plainly.

We don’t need a workshop. There is a really easy way to get a similar experience: talking to all kinds of people, people from outside academia and people from all walks of life. We just have to be willing to spend a little time really thinking about the essence of what we do.


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Musings on Mission Statements

Bluefield State College is a public, historically black college (HBCU) in West Virginia with around 1,500 undergraduate students. Its mission statement opens with a commitment to affordability and accessibility and focuses on nurturing and fostering student growth — “intellectual, personal, ethical, and cultural development.” Because of its history as a HBCU, I expected accessibility to be foregrounded. I also find their commitment to “informed citizenship” something expected for a public college.

Oberlin College’s mission statement opens with a pledge to transform and grow students in a variety of ways. Its focus on the evolution of students as individuals is similar to Bluefield’s, but what it claims to offer students reflects its liberal arts approach, including “artistic rigor,” sustained inquiry,” and “creativity.” Oberlin is a private liberal arts college in Ohio with an enrollment of around 3,000.

In a post for the London School of Economics’ “Impact Blog,” Julián David Cortés-Sánchez states that a meta-study of college and university mission statements reveals that most public universities focus on students while private universities focus on teaching or process. Oberlin doesn’t fall perfectly in line with the norm. They open with a focused statement on students before transitioning to talking about the environment and process.

Oberlin’s mission statement goes on to say, “It seeks to offer a diverse and inclusive residential learning environment encouraging a free and respectful exchange of ideas and shares in an enduring commitment to a sustainable and just society.” I found this section to be the most interesting portion of either in that it dictates the college’s expectations of campus climate. Oberlin aims to prepare graduates to “create change and value in the world.” I suspect this is a fairly unique mission statement, but it does reflect that Oberlin was founded by progressive ministers that supported integrated education and coeducation in the 1830s. It also has a tradition of supporting student political action and protest, which is reflected in the mission statement’s gesture toward social justice.

Cortés-Sánchez reveals that private colleges’ mission statements most often mention “society” while the public ones mention “community.” Bluefield and Oberlin follow this norm. I’m interested in finding out more about why this difference exists. To me, society represents a larger group comprised of many different parts while community is a smaller, more clearly defined group. One might assume that public universities are more concerned with society at large and the common good. Why, then, do they focus on community? Does the word community reflect an individual’s relationship to the world? Might community suggest a more service-oriented philosophy?


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