“You never give me your money.”

25 03 2014

When is a business not a business? When it’s in the edtech business! How do I know? This quote from the new Coursera CEO, former Yale President Richard Levin talking to the Chronicle is typical of a whole genre of similar sentiments:

The company has disbursed some payments to its university partners from revenue generated by its Signature Track program, which offers “verified” certificates to MOOC students in exchange for fees. But so far, the returns for Coursera’s partners have been largely intangible.

Mr. Levin said he was not too worried about that. “Intangible returns are, in fact, the kinds of returns that we, at universities, are in the business to provide,” he told The Chronicle.

[Emphasis added]

Yet if you read all the business-oriented coverage of Levin’s hiring, you’d see them discuss very little else besides the possibility of Coursera’s tangible returns. Here’s Anya Kamenetz (of all people) hassling them because students never give them their money:

The money problem is a big one. Coursera’s growth so far has been funded by investment. They have been experimenting with different ways to attract revenue. Advertising, the most obvious choice, would likely be off-putting to students and university partners. At the end of 2012, Coursera announced a recruitment service, where employers would pay for access to users. But this didn’t get much traction.

A little over a year ago, they introduced a ”Signature Track,” which provides learners verification of their identity and course completion for a fee. Nine months later they announced $1 million in revenue from Signature Track. But that compares to $85 million in investment that the company has already taken on, from venture capitalists who expect large returns. It also translates into a 4/10 of one percent adoption rate, with just 25,000 of 7 million users opting to pay. Successful “freemium” companies, which offer some services for free and others for pay, typically have 2 to 4 percent paying users–five to ten times more than Coursera is reporting. In order to be sustainable, Coursera needs a lot more paying customers.

But wait!!! I thought Coursera’s mission was to bring education to the people who couldn’t afford it? Remember all those geniuses in lesser-developed countries? That argument is for TED talks and the New York Times. Can you imagine if Coursera’s VCs complained that the company never gave them its money and Richard Levin told them that they should be satisfied with “intangible returns?” Since the Chronicle told us that he’s being compensated with an ownership stake in the company, I think that scenario is by definition impossible.

Then there’s the question of paying students in developed countries. Here’s Ray Schroeder in the WSJ talking about other potential revenue streams:

“Coursera has huge potential,” Mr. Schroeder said. “The roadblock has always been accreditation.”

He estimates that with accreditation the company could charge in the neighborhood of $300 for a course and still undercut the cost of most other accredited courses by several hundred or even several thousand dollars.

I hate to point out the obvious, but charge $300 a course and Coursera’s initial sign up numbers are going to plummet. Their MOOCs would also cease to be actual MOOCs. Take out the massive and take out the open and you’re left with online courses, or OCs. If they’re automated, they won’t be particularly good online courses either.

While I’ve been picking on the stupidity of the phrase “intangible returns,” I should also note how stupid it is to suggest that universities are simply in the business of providing them too. It’s the determination of the modern university administrator to run their institutions like businesses that have already made so many online courses unrelentingly awful. In other words, Levin isn’t just fibbing on behalf of his new company. He’s fibbing on behalf of his new company’s clients too.

When all is said and done then, ed tech businesses are in fact businesses. It’s just that edtech businesses are less honest about it than those in other industries.


Let it be.

7 10 2013

I was reading yet another great Christopher Newfield post at Remaking the University last week when I came upon this startling survey result:

A solid majority of college presidents agree with 2/3rds of faculty that MOOCs are a negative force in higher ed, which is not something that I for one would have predicted even six months ago.

Me neither. So why then are we still spending any time discussing MOOCs at all? Can’t we just all agree that there are better subjects having to do with higher education to command our attention?

Certainly the MOOC Messiah Squad has played a big part in keeping this futile conversation going, but then there’s also a whole school of technological determinists who are convinced that just because something can be disrupted it should be disrupted. As Newfield notes, the king of disruption himself, Clayton Christensen (along with a co-author), dropped down into the pages of the Chronicle (subscription only) to explain how disruption in the face of disruptive innovation can be avoided:

There appears to be a good lesson here for colleges challenged by would-be disrupters: Take whatever technology and tools are available and use them to organize tightly around a job to be done, to forestall—or prevent—disruption. With the mind-set of focusing on a specific job, it doesn’t matter what new technologies emerge. If a technology can help a college do the job that it has chosen, then it should be able to make changes accordingly and seamlessly. If the technology is not useful to doing the job, then a college can ignore it.

I’ll take a page from Newfield and define the critical job of any university as “creative learning.” Compared to a 4-year residential campus experience, MOOCs are a lousy tool for that. So are commercial LMSs, e-textbooks and a lot of other technological gizmos that private interests have been pushing on universities for years now. Direct contact with professors, particularly well-paid happy professors, on the other hand, is a proven winner. If it wasn’t, people wouldn’t have been paying (or even bothering) to go to college for pretty much forever. So why exactly do so many professors and administrators alike run around like chickens with their heads cut off all the time these days?

I know this opinion isn’t hip, but here goes nothing: higher education isn’t broken. The funding system that pays for college is broken (on both the student and government aid ends). The economy that employs college graduates is broken. The system of shared governance that has helped higher education stay in balance for the last century is broken on most American campuses. But “fixing” higher education without fixing these other problems will only make things worse. Therefore, maybe we don’t need a technological revolution to make higher education operate better. What if evolution, not revolution, can do the trick? Let it be. Let the natural process of deliberation within the academy resolve the problems with higher education that higher education can solve.

Oddly enough, the current state of MOOCs offers a good example of how gradual constructive change can occur. Beaten back by the opposition of faculty (and university presidents it seems) we are already in the process of entering the post-MOOC world – one in which a terrible idea might evolve into something useful as long as it’s not used exclusively for cost cutting purposes. This is from an administrator at Washington State, who after my living through the “Year of the MOOC” sounds downright reasonable to me:

There are certainly innovations and advancement to be gleaned from all these ventures and experiments, even the failed ones. There are new tools we can use to enhance on-campus education through flipping and blending, opportunities for remedial education with adaptive learning, increased access to educational opportunities through interactive online learning, improved student retention with early alert systems. That said, I think the most important development of all of this experimentation is a re-awakening to the purpose and nature of a college education.

These new technologies should be used to enhance the positive—supporting engaged faculty mentoring connected students participating in an interchange of ideas–and not to exacerbate the negative by removing the content and educational expertise (the faculty) from the student experience. Place the highest value not on the newest technological options, but on the very oldest element of instruction: the give and take of ideas between faculty and students.

There it is again! Direct contact between faculty and students. Whether online or in person, the key to a successful college experience is right in front of everybody’s face. Maybe the future resembles something somewhat MOOCish, or maybe it doesn’t, but to be successful that future requires more faculty contact with students, not less.

The title of that piece calls for the MOOC conversation to be redirected, but perhaps instead it’s time to kill that conversation entirely. To quote Newfield again:

Last year the future was Massive Open Online Courses. This year the future is something else.

Maybe we can all choose a better future this time around. In fact, why don’t all of us academics and administrators just kick all the interlopers and profiteers away from the table and finish the future of higher education conversation just amongst ourselves? We’ll at least know then that everyone around the table presumably has our students’ best interests at heart, which is a lot more than we can say now.

“Piggy in the Middle.”

30 07 2013

“[Frederick] Taylor and [his protégé Carl] Barth interpreted their responsibility as that of introducing certain technological and administrative changes at Watertown Arsenal. In fact they were doing much more than this: they were disrupting an established social system and trying to build a new one. Nothing they did was, in this respect, neutral; nothing was merely technological or administrative.”

– Hugh G.J. Aitken, Scientific Management in Action: Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal, 1908-1915, 1960, p. 135.

The aspect of Taylorism that skilled molders at the Watertown Arsenal objected to most was time studies: “efficiency experts” who stood behind them, measuring the duration of particular aspects of their jobs, and then telling them how to do it better. This led to a very brief strike which actually got Taylorism banned from US government facilities.

Now imagine if that efficiency expert stood not behind those skilled workers, but between them and their work. This is essentially the situation that Lisa Lane describes here:

It’s like making a movie. And I want to be Orson Welles – writer, director, actor. It’s my class. I write it when I create the syllabus and collect the materials. I direct it when I teach and assist students. I act when I’m lecturing or presenting.

But now that we’ve professionalized “instructional design” (and other aspects of education that used to be considered support rather than primary functions), I feel there’s a movement afoot to have me just act. Someone else has a degree that says they are more qualified than I am to design my class, in collaboration with me as the “content expert”. They want to do the writing, create the storyboard, tell me what the “best practices” are.

They are trying to turn me into Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Orson Welles. They want me to profess, to perform, to present, and that’s it. (They’ll record that, so my students can view it later. Others can set up a “course structure” around my performances.)

Well…that’s not OK. As a professor, I do not simply profess – I teach. All the decisions involved in teaching should be made by me. It’s not that I don’t understand the limitations (transferrability concerns, student learning outcomes), but beyond those limits the decisions about which materials to use, and how to use them, and what to have students do, and how to assess that, etc. etc. etc. should be mine. Doing those tasks are teaching.

She’s talking about online teaching in general, but this goes double for MOOCs in particular. Here’s Karen Head of Georgia Tech (who remains my hero for describing MOOC-making in such honest detail) describing the team for her composition MOOC:

I cannot imagine doing this alone. I’m joined by Rebecca Burnett, director of our Writing and Communication Program and the project’s co-principal investigator; Richard Utz, chair of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication; a group of 11 postdoctoral teaching fellows; plus several specialists in assessment, IT, intellectual-property law, and videography.

And that doesn’t count the representatives from Coursera! No superprofessor is going to be able to be Orson Wells in that environment. They’d be lucky to be Ed Wood.

Perhaps superprofessors are happy just being Leonardo DiCaprio. After all, Leonardo DiCaprio gets paid very, very well. However, all the money for those salaries has to come from somewhere. More importantly, the money for a price of the ticket to watch this blockbuster for credit won’t be going to the rest of us who aren’t part of this movie. This is from that no-bid contract expose that ran in IHE a while back:

San Jose State University, a high-profile hotbed of experimentation with MOOC providers, has a revenue-sharing agreement with Udacity to offer for-credit online classes. That arrangement was not publicly bid, San Jose spokeswoman Pat Harris said. The university signed a contract addendum in April. The university expects to receive $40 per student, though students paid $150 per class.

Leland Stanford, the original California entrepreneur, and his buddies didn’t get a deal that sweet.

In other words, MOOC providers are the piggy in the middle, sucking up tuition money that could be going back into the state universities that desperately need it. As Gerry Canavan explains it:

The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, of the people hired on campus to design or implement MOOC-ification. Some of them really are extraordinarily smart, caring people who I consider to be among my online friends. Nevertheless, they have just as much self interest in promoting MOOC-ification as I do in promoting the self-interest of my colleagues in the professoriate. How come we never hear about that?

It’s not just bad publicity. It’s a power structure that favors technology over teaching, untenurable labor over the tenured kind and growth over dealing with the actual paying students that universities have now.

PS Holy moly! The entire Rutles “All You Need Is Cash” special is on YouTube! See you in about an hour.

In which higher education eats everything (including itself).

15 07 2013


I have another stop on the “Down With MOOCs” World Tour on Wednesday. Thanks to my friend Dean Saitta, I got invited to address the University of Denver’s Strategic Issues Panel on the Future of Higher Education. If you’re up in the capitol city of our fair state this Wednesday the 17th (two days from now), I’m speaking at 10:50AM in the Anderson Academic Commons.

What do I know about the future of higher education? After all, I’m the “Down With MOOCs” guy, not the future of higher education guy. Actually, MOOCs can tell us a lot about the future of higher education. Most notably, to elaborate on a point I made last week, why is anybody worrying themselves to death about access to higher education in the rest of the world when we can’t take care of the students we have now?:

[O]nly a bit more than half of all US students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities complete their degrees within six years, and only 29% who start two year degrees finish them within three years. America is last in graduation rate among 18 countries assessed in 2010 by the OECD. Things used to be better; in the late 1960s, nearly half of all college students got done in four years.

Of course, everyone who takes out student loans to go to college still has to pay them back whether they get a degree or not. However, the schools getting their money don’t really care as long as they have more students to replace them. MOOCs offer the tantalizing prospect of an unlimited supply of students to suck up.

Unfortunately, like that vacuum beast from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie, eventually there will be nothing to left for higher education to suck up except for itself. Indeed, as Michael Carley writes, that process may actually have started already:

The mooc is the end (?) of the process of turning universities into the educational equivalent of vanity publishers: your name on a colourful document of little substance. For now, human contact, with academics, non-academics, other students, and students of other disciplines, is keeping universities in the apostolic succession from Plato’s focus groups. The danger of the mooc is not that it will destroy higher education, but that it will reveal the destruction that is already happening, and take us to a point of no return, where universities will quite openly offer nothing but a brand to be stamped on graduates, who are paying good money for shoddy goods, neither a head start in employment, nor intellectual enrichment.

Grow your way out is not a smart strategy for survival in our troubled economy. You can have the best university in the world, but nobody will attend it if they can’t afford to go there or have few job prospects should they actually graduate.

Aside from the obvious moral problems with treating your less successful existing students like (to borrow a phrase from Bousquet) an academic waste product, this becomes much harder to do when the largest, most successful schools in the country are literally treating your already cash-strapped students as a new revenue stream. Perhaps, as more and more schools go belly up irrespective of MOOC madness, the people running the precarious ones that are left will be smart enough to treat their campuses as vulture-free zones.

Mean Mr. Market.

12 11 2012

Why does everyone seem to think I’m anti-capitalist these days? Robert Bromber made that assumption last week. So did Jeremy on Friday. Believe it or not, I am not a socialist (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And for the 600th time, I’m not a Luddite either.* I simply think there are some places where market forces should not reign supreme and one of those places is higher education.

The problem with unregulated capitalism is that the people who benefit from it simply don’t know when enough is enough. Here’s Nicolaus Mills in Dissent:

Running a corporatized college or university is not easy. The professor who takes time out from teaching and research to devote him- or herself to administration for a few years increasingly is an anachronism. A new, permanent administrative class now dominates higher education. At the top are the college and university presidents who earn a million dollars or more a year and serve on numerous corporate boards (Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, earned a reported $1.38 million in a single year from her multiple directorships). Thirty-six private college and university presidents, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, fall into the million-dollars-a-year category, and many more are close behind.

Seriously, what makes Gordon Gee worth $2.14 million dollars/year? I know Ohio State is a big place. I’ll buy $500,000 or maybe even a million, but $2.14 million? Think of the faculty half that sum could pay for! Think of the tech they could buy!

Students aren’t the only ones paying for salaries like that or the less-bloated salaries of lower profile unnecessary administrators. Faculty are too. Here’s Mills again:

[W]hen colleges and universities think of economizing, their target is all too often those who are already their most vulnerable employees—part-time faculty and service workers. The administrators who run our leading colleges and universities are unwilling, the record shows, to downsize themselves. In the 1970s, 67 percent of faculty were tenured or on a tenure track. Today that figure is down to 30 percent, and for those who run higher education such a low number is ideal. Whether they are adjuncts or teaching assistants (TAs), those without the claim to permanent jobs cost less and are easy to get rid of in a period of contraction.

This isn’t news to people who pay attention to higher education labor issues. However, I don’t think most people understand that outsourcing a campus’ technological endeavors to private companies has the same effect. As my friend Jonathan Poritz has suggested, why do we need Facebook Blackboard when there’s plenty of free LMSs out there that campuses can run with minimal costs for continuing support?

Similarly, why does the University of Michigan have to hire Coursera to run its MOOCs when there are plenty of people on that campus who could set up systems designed to benefit the faculty there? Instead, they agreed to a contract where the company’s sources of revenue hasn’t even been identified yet! In the meantime, the governor there cut enough money from the budget in 2011 to spark protests and I doubt the Coursera revenue will make up for that loss anytime soon.

I’m not asking for a lot on behalf of faculty – A living wage, some job stability, at least some control over higher education’s technological future. As a trade unionist, I believe that labor and management can sit down together and work out their differences in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. However, once you invite Mean Mr. Market to your party and give him the freedom to trash the place, it’s going to be really hard to ever get him to leave.

* Pretty soon I’ll be blogging about the new internet-based, professor-centered pedagogical venture that I’ll be editing, as soon as my publisher is ready to go public.

Out of grad school, money spent. See no future, pay no rent.

16 05 2012

I blame Phil Hill for getting me to read this rant by Mark Cuban:

Its far too easy to borrow money for college. Did you know that there is more outstanding debt for student loans than there is for Auto Loans or Credit Card loans ? Thats right. The 37mm holders of student loans have more debt than the 175mm or so credit card owners in this country and more than the all of the debt on cars in this country. While the average student loan debt is about 23k. The median is close to $12,500. And growing. Past 1 TRILLION DOLLARS.

We freak out about the Trillions of dollars in debt our country faces. What about the TRILLION DOLLARs plus in debt college kids are facing ?

The point of the numbers is that getting a student loan is easy. Too easy.

That’s, of course, easy for him to say. He doesn’t need a student loan anymore. The effect of tightening those loans wouldn’t just be catastrophic for American universities. It would cut off all hopes of upward mobility for tens of thousands of young people in this country.

Worse yet, aside from loan money going to for-profit no-diploma mills, it wouldn’t be warranted. Graduating in debt with poor job prospects is obviously a risk. If you don’t believe that, then look at the results of this survey coming out of Rutgers. Yet for most college graduates, that risk will still pay off over the course of a lifetime.

However, I defy you to say the same thing about getting a Ph.D. in the humanities. As I’ve explained elsewhere, about 75% of academic jobs are now part-time workers on limited-term contracts. There is virtually no private sector for a humanities Ph.D. So do the math. The vast majority of new doctorates will end up as adjuncts (if they get jobs in academia at all) because that’s all that will be available for them. Adjunct wages aren’t worth the considerable investment in time and money that a Ph.D. program requires.

Look for a non-academic job, you say? When you’re done, you might actually be less employable than when you started. [After all, they think you only give them your funny papers.]

Therefore, how can anyone possibly tell anybody that they should pay or (worse yet) borrow money in order to get any graduate degree in the humanities in this environment unless they have 1) a job already (like a secondary school teacher looking for a raise) or 2) a totally different path to employment to fall back upon?

Nowhere to go is no excuse.

“But if you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”

12 03 2012

“People are all over this idea lately,”

writes Paul Graham about the idea of replacing universities with technological utopias of an undetermined nature:

“I think they’re onto something. I’m reluctant to suggest that an institution that’s been around for a millennium is finished just because of some mistakes they made in the last few decades, but certainly in the last few decades US universities seem to have been headed down the wrong path. One could do a lot better for a lot less money.”

It’s certainly easy to do the same things that universities do for a lot less money, but will technology necessarily make academia better? Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters anymore. The people who control politics and higher education in America are going to impose radical restructuring on academia not because they want to do it better, but because they want to do it cheaper. Whether the changes they institute in the name of cost-cutting prove better or worse for education in the end is completely irrelevant to their goals.

More importantly, they and ed tech industry that wants their business don’t care who they hurt in the process of making their fantasy the new reality. This piece includes a term coined by the economist Joseph Schumpeter that gets at this mindset well:

[C]oming up with new educational models is hard to do if you’re already working pretty hard teaching the existing program. But there’s no stopping this sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction,” and I’d hate to be working for the educational equivalent of Polaroid — a brilliant and innovative company that proved unable to adapt to a rapidly changing technological frontier.

Creative destruction is still destruction, and you can’t fight destruction with resignation. You fight creative destruction by putting forward a different set of values – a set of values that emphasizes learning over destruction for its own sake. I don’t like the idea of giving up without a fight, particularly when it’s my job that’s potentially on the chopping block.

This guy who I quoted the other day suggests that:

If you’ve got Amazon as an analogue for these massively open courses, there is still a model where people actually go into bookstores because sometimes they want to touch, or they like hanging out, or there’s other value offered by that. What it means is that the university needs to rethink what it’s doing, how it’s doing it.

I say if you play their game by their rules, then you’ve already lost. After all, they’re the ones carrying pictures of Chairman Mao. If we carry them too, we won’t make it with anyone either.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me…?”

26 02 2012

As a matter of fact, I do take requests. This one‘s for you, Phil:

The Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring a competition: the goal is for somebody on the Kaggle platform to get as close as possible to predicting the already marked grade of 23,000 high school student essays.

Perhaps this should worry me, but taken by itself it doesn’t because this will never work. Grading essays, as anyone who’s ever done it knows, is highly subjective (but by no means arbitrary) work. Give a lot of “A”s in a row, and you’ll be harder on the next batch. Give a lot of “F”s and you’ll look for “A”s. My friend Brett used to say that he knew it was time to stop grading for a while when he started growling at the papers. While some people might call this a bad thing, I’d call it “dealing with human beings.” Strangely enough, most people write for human beings in the real world rather than for algorithms.

I find this much more common story of teaching on autopilot a lot more scary:

I was assigned a textbook course in American history. Composition was not a prerequisite, and the course was steered by two multiple-choice exams provided by the textbook’s publisher. Area Tech had adopted state-approved standards for the subject, and these were guaranteed to be met by the text, which was written by a well-affiliated professor, published by a major New York house, and retailed to my students at 60 federally subsidized dollars each. It contained some decent maps, but it was scattered, bland, and thoroughly tiresome. It was designed so that any literate adult could be slotted in to teach it. By our second class of going over its chapters, the students, a healthy mix of ages, races, and cultural backgrounds, enjoyed it no more than I did.

Plug any literate adult into the role of designated grader and professors with my qualifications become completely unnecessary. How can this situation ever exist (the naive might ask themselves)? Because the powers that be no longer care what the quality of higher education is like for most people anymore. That, of course, is the scariest story of all.

Think I’m exaggerating? You may have seen this one yesterday. Here’s Rick Santorum, on college and college professors:

“There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor… That’s why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image,” Santorum said. “I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

An algorithm would be Rick Santorum’s dream college professor, at least at non-Christian schools. No taxpayer dollars for high-priced, elitist labor. No brainwashing. In fact, no thinking whatsoever. No wonder Rick Santorum loves those for-profit colleges.

Where does that leave all of us liberal college professors? Foraging for food when we’re 64. You think the job market is bad now? Wait until we’re all replaced by an adjunct or a machine. I don’t know about you, but I have to scrimp and save as it is already.

“1, 2, 3, 4…Can I have a little more?”

17 01 2012

Why do business professors generally make more money than history professors? The answer, trying to be fair about it, is that business professors have non-academic alternatives. That means that universities have to compete with marketers in order to hire a marketing professor, accounting firms to hire an accounting professor, etc. History professors…well I guess we have Plan B, which hasn’t really been worked out yet.

Yet this whole line of argument assumes that the academic labor market is, in fact, free: that there are a number of options out there for people seeking better employment, that they are well-informed of all those options and that they won’t be afraid to risk moving. But what if the academic labor market isn’t free after all? There’s an article in the new Harper’s (so new that it’s not even on the web site as I write this) about monopoly employers, who (if I remember my economics right) are actually monopsonists – One buyer of labor and many sellers. It mostly covers workers in the computer industry and the chicken industry, but a description of a free (labor) market there, provided as contrast, doesn’t apply much to academia either.

I’ll take each trait one at a time:

“Most important is an equality between the seller and the buyer, achieved by ensuring that that there are many buyers as well as sellers.

The deliberate restructuring of demand has eliminated that possibility.

Second is transparency. Everyone sees the quantity and the quality of the product on offer, and the price at which each deal is done.

Those of us in state schools can usually find out everyone else’s salary without too much trouble. But do you know their courseload? Do you know their perks? Are you rude enough to ask?

A third characteristic is a tendency to deliver egalitarian outcomes.

I probably make about $35,000/year less than the average business professor at my university and I have a higher courseload. But then again, tell that to our adjuncts.

Adjunct faculty in the humanities make less than well-supported graduate students at most universities, yet they carry most of the teaching load in many places. And don’t tell me that’s because they don’t do research, because today’s adjunct faculty are just as capable of putting out books as anyone who’s lucky enough to have the time to write when not teaching just two or three classes each semester.

A free labor market would create something akin to equal pay for equal work. Since academia is nothing like it, there must be some reason why the academic labor market isn’t free. The New Faculty Majority blog posts this part of an article on art that suggests a parallel to academia:

Classical economic models assume that suppliers don’t have any particular emotional attachment to what they’re supplying; all they really want to do is to make money. As a result, if they’re not making money, they’ll exit the industry, leaving more to go around for everyone else. As we see from Kirk Lynn’s contribution to the discussion, however, many artists (especially artist-entrepreneurs) have far too much passion for their work to consider exiting solely for financial reasons. The result of this lack of exit is a surfeit of fantastic art that few aside from its creators have time to take in.

Perhaps then they exploit us (to differing degrees) because we care. Since you’ll take less to do the work which you find meaning in and enjoy, then we’ll pay you less. I know we’re always free to quit, but what do you do if you actually believe in what you’re doing and want to try to make academia better? I guess we could all try to become Blue Meanies administrators, but what if you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror each morning?

You could always start a blog! Or maybe not. This is from Reason #76 over at a blog that you really should be reading already:

Why? Why are academics—of all people—afraid of writing (and speaking) honestly about their profession? Why do so many of those who do express themselves feel compelled to do so anonymously? The answer lies in the staggering power imbalance between academics and the people who employ them. That imbalance is so great because of the crippling realities of the academic job market. The consequences of offending your colleagues and superiors in any way can be dire, because until you have tenure (see Reason 71) your employment is insecure; you are easily replaced.

But if we just worked all together now…

“Get Back.”

7 11 2010

Today I had to explain to my daughter that “Across the Universe” was not actually a Beatles movie and that this came first:

Frankly, I’m just glad she cares.

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