Meanwhile, back in my real job… (Part II).

24 04 2013

From the same interview as last time, I’m also in this half hour on the history of the infamous Ludlow Massacre:

This one is close to my heart as I do a lot more with this subject than just talk about it on TV.





Will the last non-super professor in academia please turn out the lights when they leave?

16 04 2013

In 1892, William Weihe, the former President of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union, testified before Congress that his union:

“never objects to [technological] improvements and makes allowances in every particular where there are improvements…[W]henever there is an improvement made by which certain men will be done away with, then their jobs will be done away with. There is no objection.”

By 1909, his union had effectively disappeared, relegated to a couple of small specialty mills in Ohio.

I realize that I’ve been kind of shrill lately, but this kind of complacency just scares me to death. Yes, skilled iron and steel workers faced a particularly steep hill to climb during the late-nineteenth century because mechanized steel production was a huge improvement over hand puddling, but the question in education is not whether MOOCs and online education are superior to face-to-face instruction. [When Harvard and Princeton start giving actual credit at Harvard and Princeton for their MOOCs, then maybe we can begin to question that assumption.] The question is whether MOOCs and online education are sufficient to serve as substitutes for the face-to-face instruction that so many of us provide.

It’s easy to guess how I’d answer that question, but imagine you’re a college student who’s been convinced that all he or she needs is a degree rather than an education in order to make it in life. Which path are you going to choose?

What faculty need to understand is that a lot of other players in this discussion, particularly the ones who don’t actually teach for a living, are using similar criteria. In other words, they couldn’t care less whether the future of higher education actually teaches students anything or not. Some of these people are interested primarily in efficiency and improved test scores. Some of them are interested in their bottom lines. Some of these people just hate universities.

For purposes of the primary audience for this blog, it is also worth noting that precious few participants in this discussion have any interest in the economic situation facing college professors, adjunct and tenure-track alike. Much to my continued alarm, the people ignoring our economic concerns includes an incredibly high number of actual college professors. They seem to think it is not their place to object to “improvements,” and are willing to make allowances for any such changes even if they work against their own self-interest.

Perhaps if more of us actually understood that there’s a target on all our backs, this shocking degree of complacency will finally change.





“Our house was our castle and our keep.”

18 03 2013

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. I already wrote about that book last summer when I read it again, but that was a post about what the word “Luddite” really means. A recent Guardian piece reminds me that that part has very little to do with the reputation of the book:

Thompson touched on the trade unions and the real wage, of course, but most of his book was devoted to something that he referred to as “experience”. Through a patient and extensive examination of local as well as national archives, Thompson had uncovered details about workshop customs and rituals, failed conspiracies, threatening letters, popular songs, and union club cards. He took what others had regarded as scraps from the archive and interrogated them for what they told us about the beliefs and aims of those who were not on the winning side.

Professors, as much as some of us want to deny it, are working class. We have rituals that seem bizarre to the uninitiated. We have long periods of apprenticeship in which we pick up these rituals. We have bosses that want to make us work harder for less pay. We even have common styles of dress.*

Academia is our house of labor, and MOOC providers are deliberately trying to tear down the door so that they can rush in and trash the place. To do this, they have to appeal to the same populist instincts that doomed earlier generations of skilled workers. After all, no other workers get tenure. This whole hatred of the “sage on the stage thing” is another example of technology putting the elitist professor in his or her place. But who are the real elitists here [h/t Undine]?:

No students at Irvine or Duke or Penn will be able to take any of these courses for credit, though. Matkin said UC-Irvine does not consider its Coursera courses, as currently constructed, to be worthy of its credit because “we do not control learning environment of these students…. There are 250,000 signups in our six courses, with open enrollment so anybody can sign up, and those anybodies can influence negatively the learning environment of students who are serious about taking it.”

One kind of education for people who can afford college tuition. A lesser kind of education for those who can’t.

But what about access and individual empowerment? If the entire world can’t go to college then something must be terribly wrong, right? This kind of thinking drives me absolutely bananas:

Bricks-and-mortar campuses are unlikely to keep up with the demand for advanced education: according to one widely quoted calculation, the world would have to construct more than four new 30,000-student universities per week to accommodate the children who will reach enrolment age by 2025 (see go.nature.com/mjuzhu), let alone the millions of adults looking for further education or career training.

So we’ll educate the entire world, but not do anything to provide jobs for them once they graduate? Let them pay through the nose for an inferior education, then blame lack of effort on the part of students for their inevitable un- or underemployment. Makes me think that that Edububble guy may have a better schtick than I first thought.

Or maybe not. I think the key omission in all those “college professors are a bunch of elitists” arguments is that we let students themselves into our house, not just by teaching them our respective disciplines but by looking after their best interests, sometimes even years after they graduate. In contrast, who invited all the for-profit vultures in directly through the front door of the University of California system? Administrators, of course. That they did in the name of students’ best interests only means that the powers that be there are steeped in the rhetoric of education reformers whose real goal is to destroy education. After all, what happens when Coursera and Udacity pull a Google Reader and decide that running all the MOOCs that UC students need to graduate no longer meets those companies’ longterm interests? The students will be left holding the bag.

The sad thing about comparing MOOC Madness to the work of E.P. Thompson (or just to the work of Madness for that matter) is that the English working class got crushed by industrialization (or Thatcherism). Most of us professors (even contingent faculty) are in a much better economic position than the machine breakers ever were. Unfortunately, as Thompson so beautifully demonstrated half a century ago, they had us beat hands down in the class consciousness department.

* My wife keeps begging me to get rid of my herringbone tweed jacket, but I always explain that sometimes I actually need to look like a professor.





“Teamsters in tweed?” I wish.

11 02 2013

Beating up on Clay Shirky is something of a sport amongst the people I follow on Twitter, and that sport was particularly popular last week when this article came out.  The line that got the most derision had nothing to do with MP3s or Napster or even MOOCs.  Instead it was this:

“But when someone threatens to lower the price [of education] then we start behaving like Teamsters in tweed.”

Now that sentence is freighted with an enormous number of assumptions (all of which are insulting to Teamsters), but Shirky’s real purpose here is to shame his fellow faculty members.  He seems to think that the proper response to MOOC-ification is for all of us to sit back and let “progress” run its course.  That’s easy for an Internet expert with a job at NYU to imply, but what’s a community college professor who’s about to become a glorified teaching assistant supposed to do when MOOCs threaten his or her ability to pay their bills?

I say they should behave more like Teamsters.

Perhaps Shirky picked the phrase “Teamsters in tweed” for alliterative purposes, but I think he deliberately wanted to invoke the violent reputation of that union as a means of creating enough guilt to stop faculty everywhere from sticking up for themselves.  Or maybe he’s arguing that resistance is simply futile.  Even if it is, that resistance is absolutely crucial if displaced faculty ever want to get anything in exchange for their displacement.  The only intelligent thing to do when someone wants to make your job obsolete is to organize.

Does this kind of talk make me sound like a Teamster?  Good.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in my fifteen-odd years of being a professor it’s that most administrators think that the class divide ends at the edge of campus.  It doesn’t.  [Go talk to an adjunct sometime if you don't believe me.]  Yet the powers that be generally want to act as if every professor is part of a big, happy family even when they’re not.

Running a university during the age of permanent austerity means convincing faculty to put in the greatest amount of effort at the lowest possible cost.  Yelling “Think of the children!” every time people in power want to cut somebody’s salary (using technology to do so or not) is simply a business strategy.  What just kills me is how well this con works on most of my colleagues across academia.

As I’ve written over and over at this blog, the wonderful thing about the online education/MOOC debate is that by sticking up for ourselves we professors ARE thinking of the children since a lousy higher education for almost everyone is of no use to anyone, especially the students who pay for it.  That doesn’t mean my job is special.  It simply means that the quality of the service I provide is just as important as the price when determining its longterm value.

While this rant may seem a tad radical to some readers, all I’m really saying here is that labor and management need to sit down together and work out issues of mutual interest from a position of mutual respect and relative equality.  The Teamsters call this process “collective bargaining.”  In academia, unless we’re lucky enough to work in a union shop, we call it “shared governance.”

Shared governance?  Hasn’t the Internet made that obsolete?  Well, it will if we aren’t willing to fight for it.





For faculty, educational entrepreneurship is a devil’s bargain.

17 12 2012

David Brody is my favorite labor historian of all time because of his extended interest in industrial relations. However, my favorite labor history book ever is one most people outside the field have never encountered. Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital has been treated like a classic 70s socialist polemic (which I guess it is), but it’s also a careful reconstruction of the capitalist worldview which has become ever more accurate as America has slipped further into the new Gilded Age.

I’ve written about Braverman before here and here, but I picked the book up again last week and reread an extended excerpt he has from the efficiency expert Frederick W. Taylor. Taylor, you see, was incredulous that workers didn’t want to labor in shops using his system of scientific management because they could benefit greatly if they worked more efficiently than anyone else. Here’s Taylor (from Braverman, p. 65):

“I began, of course, by directing some one man to do more work than he had done before, and then I got on the lathe myself and showed him that it could be done. In spite of this, he went ahead and turned out exactly the same output and refused to adopt better methods or to work quicker until finally I laid him off and got another man in his place. This new man–I could not blame him in the least under the circumstances–turned right around and joined the other fellows and refused to do any more work than the rest.”

Taylor’s solution was piece wages, thereby giving workers the opportunity to make more money if they work harder. This encourages them to think more about their own welfare rather than the welfare of their colleagues. It also gave management the opportunity to cut wages once the workers got used to working at an accelerated output.

I thought of Taylor when I read what Straighter Line is up to these days:

Instructors who offer courses on Professor Direct will be able to essentially set their own sticker prices, as long as they are higher than the company’s base price. One professor teaching an online mathematics course with a base price of $49, for example, plans to charge $99. For each student who signs up, the company will pocket the $49 base price, and the professor gets the remaining $50.

Let’s cover one aspect of the evil here right off the bat: Paying professors by the student is immoral and anti-education. This gives them every incentive to make their classes easier and grade easier whether students are learning or not.

But let’s leave that aside and stipulate that this scheme becomes both acceptable and widespread. How much do you really know about what your course is worth on the market? More importantly, how much do your students know? Here’s the multi-talented Josh Boldt:

If I have a broken bone, I know exactly what the doctor will do to fix it. If I am being sued, the value proposition in which I engage with my attorney is relatively understood. I will give him a certain amount of money and he will attempt to win my case. Once my transactions with this doctor and lawyer are complete, we move on with our lives. Here again, there really is no chance for any hidden value or any future compounding of the service I received in exchange for my payment. Both the professional and I can agree on a fee and be pretty confident exactly what we will both gain from the transaction.

And then there’s education. How many of you can say that at 18 years old, you knew exactly what value you would receive from each class you took in college?…

It’s just not possible. We can’t possibly negotiate a fair market price for education because we have no idea what hidden value lies in the information we will gain from a given course. Often we don’t realize until semesters or even years later how much value we actually received from a course we took.

Yet no matter who wins and who loses in this ill-informed exchange, Straighter Line would still make money. Frederick Taylor couldn’t have planned the bait-and-switch any better. Better to band together and keep control of our jobs.





Lemmings.

14 09 2012

Never let it be said that I always disagree with administrators. Dean Dad:

If non-elite colleges and universities want to avoid the fate of travel agencies and film companies, what should they do in the age of free MOOCs?

I’d suggest focusing more clearly on what they can offer that MOOCs can’t.

But then he had to go and write this immediately after that:

That means having people around to help students get through the perplexing parts of courses; having advisors who can help students knit together disparate courses into coherent programs; organized tutoring; in-person collaboration and projects; ‘flipped’ classrooms; and specialized facilities.

In other words, he wants a bunch of glorified teaching assistants around to guide students through our brave new all-online utopia. Unfortunately, I’ve used the “Suicide Squad” clip from “Life of Brian” before. That was in a post about professors encouraging MOOCs. This is more like lemmings all going over the cliff together.

If we really can’t compete with free, then every university will have to have it’s own MOOC. When every university has its own MOOC, or MOOCs are outsourced to other universities, the number of faculty employed in higher education will go down drastically. You don’t need a Ph.D. to be a tutor, so they won’t hire Ph.Ds. That’s where the cost savings will begin. Needless to say, this is not good news for faculty at any level.

What makes these sentiments so crazy is that Dean Dad’s first sentiment, the part I agree with, doesn’t jibe with his second. Providing auxiliary services to MOOCs isn’t offering what “they can offer that MOOCs can’t.” It’s full-scale surrender without firing a shot.

So what can regional comprehensive universities like mine offer that MOOCs can’t? That’s where the Dr. Crazy post that Historiann highlighted yesterday is so useful. Her premise is the similarity between a good college education and a $4,000 suit. The crux of the analogy, to use my labor history background for a moment here, is that they’re both made by skilled craft work:

“[O]ur business, the business of learning, just like the business of making a quality suits, relies on an apprenticeship system, because you can’t really learn how to do it without doing it while other people watch over you[.]

Here’s Dr. Crazy’s conclusion:

The future of quality higher education is not MOOCs, just as the future of quality suits is not the Salvation Motherfucking Army. The future of quality higher education is not “increased online offerings,” just as the future of quality suits is not buying a fucking suit online from a department store. Sure, those are “options.” Whatever. Do you think that’s all the options that your kids deserve? Do you think that’s all the options that you deserve? Really?

Charging thousands upon thousands of dollars a semester for a Salvation Army style education is a recipe for financial disaster. Colleges should hire more faculty to provide the kind of personalized instruction that will actually make a real difference when students hit the job market, not de-skill instructors or farm our content out to video super-professors and hope for the best.

How many of us are willing to just say “no” to jumping off the cliff together?





“Show me the money!”

8 08 2012

Apart from the complete works of Monty Python and Annie Hall, “Jerry Maguire” may be my favorite movie of all time. It’s a sports story; it’s a love story; but it’s also a story of employment. To me, the scene where Jerry leaves his agency for the last time might just be the most amazing scene in the history of Hollywood. You don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cheer. If I remember right, the above scene comes from just before he exits. The catchphrase with which I titled this post has worn thin by now, but if you do click play you’ll see that Jerry screams it out of desperation to keep Rod Tidwell as a client because he needs some money himself.

Are major universities that desperate for money too? Aaron Barlow, comparing the coming obsolescence of journalists to the potential obsolescence of professors, doesn’t think it matters:

Beyond that, education has one thing journalism does not have:…Certification. The success of American journalism is based on lack of a certification process. This allowed the profession to grow on its own as the country grew, and to develop its own methodologies without interference. The ‘self learning’ movements grew (and shrank, and grew again) in much the same way. But, along the way, people started realizing something else was also needed. It wasn’t enough just to study, one had to prove one had learned something. All sorts of processes for certification grew—the bar exam for lawyers, college degrees, licensing exams, apprenticeships. Only journalism could not impose its own–or even allow one to be imposed on it.

I sure hope he’s right. However, what if the academic certification process gets so corrupted by the need to show someone (venture capitalists, taxpayers, Rod Tidwell, etc.) the money that universities become willing to give just about anyone credit for just about anything? After all, plenty of for-profit universities claim to be certified and that hasn’t stopped them from offering a terrible education at an outrageous cost.

Now read this and tell me it’s not a bad omen:

The new generation of online courses features interactive technology, open admissions, high-caliber curriculum and the ability to teach tens of thousands of students at once. The universities say the online courses are as rigorous as their campus counterparts.

Some schools, including the University of Washington and University of Helsinki, say they will offer college credit for Coursera courses.

[emphasis added]

Rigorous? Really? The Coursera history course from Princeton that I’m about to take has no required reading. I suspect that’s because reading is unpopular, and since the customer is always right then the reading had to go.

Perhaps the best thing about Jerry Maguire is to see him grow a conscience as he gets increasingly humiliated so that he eventually does the right thing by everybody. Do universities have consciences? [I won't even bother to ask if venture capitalists do.] Faculty need to play the Renée Zellweger role in this movie and shame Jerry into doing the right thing.

Our students can be the little kid who keeps asking, “Did you know the human head weighs eight pounds?”





The word “Luddite” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

26 07 2012

Before I left Korea, I mentioned that I had started re-rereading E.P. Thompson’s monumental The Making of the English Working Class. As an Americanist, I read it originally not for the content, but for Thompson’s incredibly influential insights into the the mechanics of class formation. Since so many people throw the word Luddite around at anyone who questions whether technological change in higher education is always a good thing and the Luddites come up a lot in that book, I thought it might be nice to go back and look at the original Luddites again.

As I suspected, the Luddites were indeed a lot more complicated than their current caricature suggests. Here’s Thompson quoting a contemporary newspaper summarizing the philosophy behind their machine breaking in the cloth industry (p. 532):

“The machines, or frames…are not broken for being upon any new construction…but in consequence of goods being wrought upon them which are of little worth, are deceptive to the eye, are disreputable to the trade, and therefore pregnant with the seeds of its destruction.”

In other branches of the English textile industry, where the goods produced on machines were superior to those produced by hand, Luddites opened up negotiations to transition themselves into other work. They resorted to machine breaking only with those employers who refused to bargain with them.

Now I’m not advocating breaking anything, however maintaining quality and helping displaced workers transition into other jobs strikes me as ideas that ought to be celebrated rather than mocked. Instead, too many MOOC enthusiasts deny that professors operate under any of the constraints that other workers face at all. Leave it to Marc Bousquet to summarize everything I’ve been writing about online education on this blog over the last few months in just a few short sentences:

Well, the good intentions and featured best practices of Siemens and Downes exist in political and institutional realities. If institutions really wanted to sustain participatory learning, they would already be doing so, for instance, by reducing lectures and high-stakes testing, investing in teaching-intensive faculty and the like. Instead, driven less by cost concerns than a desire to standardize and control both faculty and curriculum, administrations rely more than ever on lectures and tests.

Heck, you could break my underlying philosophy on this subject down to the first sentence and a half there. Universities that are being run like businesses don’t care about the difference between good MOOCs and bad MOOCs. All they see are dollar signs. As a result, you’re going to get the least expensive, lowest quality option every time. Or as Tim Burke explains it:

MOOCs are damn interesting, you betcha, but seriously, if you think they’re about to solve the labor-intensivity of higher education tomorrow with no losses or costs in quality, you have a lot of learning to do.

He or she who foots the bills runs the show, and as long as that remains administrators, Coursera or the Gates Foundation the difference between a connectivist and a non-connectivist MOOC is really no difference at all.

But let’s stipulate that I’m wrong about about this. Suppose that all MOOCs end up being as interactive and noble as George Seimens describes here. This is where the other aspect of the actual Luddite philosophy applies.

Even if MOOCs turn out to be a very high quality product, their effect upon the employment prospects of existing and future college professors would be exactly the same. It’s their massiveness rather than their interactivity that makes this so. Scale online teaching up and good teachers with years of experience and small fortunes invested in their educations will be unemployed by definition.

High quality or low quality, if MOOCs are the future it’s high time that we professors to start looking out after our own interests during this technological transition now before it’s too late. That’s not akin to machine breaking. It’s just common sense.





“Oh dear, how I wish I had wings.”

16 07 2012

I may be the only person around who finds it ironic that Chumbawamba broke up while I’m deep into re-reading E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class because I never owned that “Tubthumping” album. I did, however, buy their “English Rebel Songs 1381-1984″ from the discount rack the last time I was in London and have been using it in my Labor History class ever since.

“Poverty Knock” as well as the early part of Thompson’s mammoth book are mostly about what English workers lost when they went into the factories. Before industrialization, spinning thread was supplementary to agricultural labor. You and your kids could do it at home when you weren’t farming. You weren’t rich, but you were together. You also controlled your own time and were probably at least marginally happy about that.

Industrialization introduced what Thorstein Veblen referred to as the “discipline of the machine.” You show up at the bell. You do your job all day. If you don’t, your bosses will see you and you won’t work at all. They wanted not just your body, but your mind in the work because they thought they owned you.

I think you can see this online education analogy coming from a mile away, but it’s actually worse than just what you expect. There is something weirdly retrograde about turning people’s homes into education factories, and that’s exactly what online education does. They can give you online office hours, monitor your keystrokes, read every word you write to your students – all while you’re in the friendly confines of your own home because they’re too cheap to find you a proper office.

Everybody wonders what students are going to do when they can’t go to keggers at frats anymore. What are professors going to do when they can’t meet and talk at the office? Seriously, you think meetings are bad now? Wait until they’re all online. Separating us into our own homes also makes it harder for professors to cause trouble on campus. After all, we might demand crazy inefficient things like shared governance and other lost relics of a bygone age like tenure, health insurance and a work/life balance.

To put it another way, when traditional teaching gets destroyed all we’ll have left is the work. If higher education becomes entirely about production, then the workers aren’t going to be allowed to do anything but produce. Here’s a quote in Thompson from a Manchester silk weaver (p. 297) that I marked for future reference:

“Labour is always carried to market by those who have nothing else to keep or to sell, and who, therefore, must part with it immediately….The labour which I…might perform this week, if I, in imitation of the capitalist, refuse to part with it…because an inadequate price is offered me for it, can I bottle it? [C]an I lay it up in salt?”

No you can’t, and your administration knows this too. They also know that the vast majority of us (especially the adjuncts) are already working ourselves to death as it is, so the only way to make us more efficient is to tie us to our machines 24/7.* You’ll wish you had wings because that’s the only way you’ll ever get out at that point. It won’t stop when you get home because you’ll be home already.

Move your work entirely onto the machine and you’ll have to sell your labor all night and all day because that will become the new normal when our time is all that we have left to sell. The pathetic thing about we professors is that so many of us are willing to ruin our lives voluntarily by helping to make this transition happen.

* I’m not kidding about that 24/7 thing. Do you know how many people sleep with their phones on near their bedsides these days?





Are college professors working class?

5 07 2012

Audrey Watters is my new hero. Considering the general subject of this blog of late, she should probably be my old hero. Nonetheless, considering her position as an ed tech journalist it took some guts to come out and write this about the controversy over those Mystery Science Theatre 3000-style Khan Academy parodies circulating out there on the Internet:

[T]his isn’t just a matter of highlighting pedagogical problems in the Khan Academy videos or with their usage in the classroom. This is about power: “arrogance” connotes superiority and power; “disparagement” seeks to displace or depreciate power. Who has the authority to speak about or dismiss pedagogy? Who gets to speak about math and science? These aren’t simply matters of education or expertise but rather of political power as it’s wielded within our current education reform narrative. And that is a narrative that’s painted Khan as a revolutionary hero, while painting teachers as reactionary villains.

[Emphasis in original]

What do most of the edtech startups of the world, the people who fund them and the university administrations that contract their services want to do with that power? Push teachers of all kinds off the shop floor so that they have to accept any terms of employment that they are offered if they want to teach again in the new tech-centered world of education that they are all trying to create. It reminds me of what happened to iron workers in America during the 1870s when the Bessemer steel process finally took off.

But college professors, you say, aren’t exactly blue collar. They don’t have to accept the same crap that “ordinary” workers do, as described brilliantly (with tons of links in the original post at Crooked Timber) by Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch:

On pain of being fired, workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they want, say what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things—punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). But what’s remarkable is just how many of these punishments are legal, and even when they’re illegal, how toothless the law can be. Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job—certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers—and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment. Outside the prison or the military—which actually provide, at least on paper, some guarantee of due process—it’s difficult to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.

Do you really think higher education is any different? Do I have to remind you that three quarters of college professors in the United States are part-time or under limited term contracts? For them, often in need of reappointment semester after semester, the situation might actually be worse in some ways. Adjuncts have little choice but to endure a constant assault on their rights and prerogatives if they want to keep their job, just like other working class people do. The restructuring of power relationships in employment and in the classroom brought on by online education is just one aspect of this ongoing struggle.

What separates tenured and tenure-track professors from other working people is, of course, tenure itself. Even though anyone with tenure will be the first one to tell you that the idea that they can’t be fired is a joke, tenure is a lot more job protection than most workers get. That’s precisely why tenure has been under attack for years.

But the war on professors has a lot more fronts than just the battle over tenure. Like the math teachers who are told to show Khan Academy videos rather than actually teach math themselves, the very existence of teachers of any kind is being called into question by people who claim to serve the cause of education. As my intended audience for this blog is other college professors, I tend to stress the importance of self preservation in light of these kinds of attacks. However, teachers, students and the public at large that depends on both those groups should be concerned about the ways in which the very definition of learning itself is being changed.

If I watch videos about engineering, am I qualified to build a bridge in your town? If I watch videos about brain surgery am I qualified to probe around inside your skull? If I watch the History Channel a lot, does that make me an historian?

Like so many other occupations, college professors at all ranks are being de-professionalized because the forces of austerity have targeted labor costs of all kinds, whether the workers drawing the salary they want to cut provide essential value or not. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that learning from a real live teacher is worth the expense (and I’d say that even if I weren’t a teacher myself). If our now constant struggle against those forces of austerity doesn’t make people like me working class, then I don’t know what would.

There’s a class war going on out there, my dear colleagues, and you’re all in the thick of it. Whether academics are willing to recognize that fact, however, is another matter entirely. For the sake of education everywhere, I sincerely hope they are.








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