I Leave You People Alone for One Week: A Higher-Ed Bullshit Roundup

For the past few (many?) days, I’ve been taking a reprieve from being worked into a tizzy about higher-ed issues. Some of the reasons for this are sad — as you’ll see below, we had a death in our family — and others are just run-of-the-mill pregnancy related, and others still are pretty good, but largely personal stuff I want to keep to myself (it’s amazing, two months Facebook-free, how quickly the concept of “keeping things to myself” returned to my repertoire, and how pleasurable it is to do so).

At any rate, I took a minor hiatus from my perch as Her Pissed-Offedness — and during that time a complete and utter perfect storm of bullshit came deluging down upon us all. I don’t even know where to begin with all of it, so I’ll just start at random.

Story 1: Education Professor writes hugely viral Time article with the thesis that college tuition is too high because of instructional costs, and that “sages on stage” are too “removed” intellectually from students to teach effectively—ergo, all college courses should be taught remotely, for free or peanuts, by fellow students or recent grads who got an “A” in the course. I realize that this asshole is just trolling the world and it’s useless to even respond, but come on.

Okay. Just for “fun.” Let’s unpack the many, many eye-fork-pokingly stupid parts of this “argument” (which, by the way, leads me to believed that perhaps at that particular School of Ed, the professors aren’t too intellectually “removed” from your average freshman dipshit).

FIrst of all, the idea that tuition is too expensive because of instructional costs. Complete and utter bullshit; everyone knows tuition is too expensive because of state disinvestment, and then many rungs down the ladder comes all the rock walls and lazy rivers and puppy massages during finals or whatever, and the absurdly top-heavy administrations. Saying that tuition is too high because of instructional pay is exactly the same as saying that the Gap is too expensive because they pay their workers too much. The Gap is too expensive because they jack prices sky-high in the name of “luxury.”

Second of all, an Ed professor should be the last person to claim that some undergrad who got an “A” is equipped to teach his fellow young wo/man. There was just a huge exposé about how ed-schools are the grade-inflateyest racket of them all. But the rest of us are not much better, and aside from a few tenured hard-ass holdouts, we know this. These days, getting an “A” in a class means that you have sort of “mastered” enough of the material to fulfill all of the “requirements” on the 95-page syllabus, and/or that the professor just doesn’t want to deal with your parents’ lawsuit later. Even a great student who really deserved her “A” will still not be intellectually ready to teach the material. LIke, even the best students are susceptible to the great game of Instructional Telephone, where we spend 45 minutes talking about Dante’s circles of Hell and I make ONE Kardashian joke five minutes before the end of class and they walk away being like, “Hell is for the Kardashians,” and then five degrees of Telephone later, the “students” are no longer reading Dante at all, but just listening to Taylor Swift and talking about their moms.

I guess I agree that this particular PhD who wrote this particular dumb-ass article shouldn’t be anywhere near students, so that’s something.

Story 2: Self-congratulatory tenure-track preener writes obsequious, tone-deaf viral op-ed in Chronicle of Higher Education about how if only the rest of us were “young and prolific” like him, we’d succeed like him. Being taken quite seriously by the scores of equally-preening comments.

Guess what, you smug little fuck? I don’t usually bring the full Schuman down upon randos with no power, but by trolling all of us “bitter-grapes” failures, you are straight-up asking for it, so here goes: I was more prolific than you in graduate school. I published in better journals than you did, I presented at fancier conferences than you did (including a 45-minute invited colloquium in Austria), and I am savvy enough not to think a book chapter matters for shit, and I had an actual research-based monograph coming out with a good university press (still do!), and I did my PhD in five years (which included a year abroad where I had to do research and create output in a language other than English), and. IT. DIDN’T. MEAN. SHIT. Because. You. Got. Lucky. You. Fucker. (And you went on the easiest Humanities market there is.) But, sure, go to sleep every night in a fluffy nest of your own self-satisfaction. You still live in Kearney, Nebraska, so the joke is really on you.

Story 3: Florida college president forbids faculty from speaking to student newspaper about their labor dispute; insists “faculty hours and pay have no effect on students.” *sets room on fire*


These stories don’t seem related (other than that they are all by or about assholes), but they are, because each perpetuates a very harmful lie about the state of higher ed today, and all the lies are interconnected.*

Behold: there is nothing wrong with the current system of academic labor (Story 2) because the “best” candidates win out—in fact, if there’s anything wrong with academic labor (Story 1), it’s that professors are, indeed, paid too much for doing a bad job. And, for that matter, what professors are paid or their working conditions shouldn’t matter to students anyway (Story 3), which of course enables the argument of Story 1 in the first place—meanwhile, as long as obsequious Story 2’s are out there denigrating the narratives of people on the wrong side of the labor continuum, those narratives will continue to be dismissed as the “whining” of “bitter grapes” failures.

This is why—even though it comes at the risk of what little job security they have—it is more crucial than ever that the marginalized voices of higher ed speak up, and loudly.

Because the real common thread all three stories have is that all three of their higher-ed visions hurt students tremendously: If students are taught by their fellow idiots, college courses become the world’s least-fun game of Telephone (annoying enough in the humanities; actually deadly in the sciences); if adjuncts and other “failures” continue to be marginalized and ignored, the students taught by them will continue to be underserved.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming of me eking out the last two excruciatingly shitty episodes of Gilmore Girls while I knit tiny hats — I’ve made it this far, and I feel like I owe it to the baby to finish what I started.

(*Also, capitalism. Shit-tons of bootstrappy malarkey. Also, BOOTSTRAPY MALARKEY is a great band name for a fusion Irish folk/American folk band, called it.)

27 thoughts on “I Leave You People Alone for One Week: A Higher-Ed Bullshit Roundup

  1. That Chronicle piece (Story #2). This entire “opinion piece” is basically a blowjob for his future tenure-and-promotion committee. (There, I said it.)

    “Every fall, we seem to get a barrage of sad tales from A.B.D.’s and angry polemics from bitter grapes, who rail against a process they will never understand—because they don’t want to.”

    “When you have tenure, don’t let it go to your head.”


      • You know, I really hope that this [redacted for civility]’s tenure committee actually finds this rhetorical slobbery blowjob to be distasteful. (Yes, I’m a petty person sometimes.)


      • He IS a smug motherfucker. That’s GREAT that he finished in four years. Some of us had elderly parents to care for, or health issues, or had to juggle several part time jobs in addition to being in a PhD program so we could pay our fucking bills. Some of us had to do all those things at once, actually! If only we had worked hard enough and been More Like Him we could be bootlicking pricks who published next to nothing and yet still landed a tenure-track job.


    • I’m coming to this post late, but that doesn’t lessen the urge to take my husband’s CV and smack the smug little kid who wrote Story #2 in the face with it. Hubby’s CV is equally if not more prolific plus he earns top teaching evals. But due to LIFE and RECESSION and fucking STALE PhD MYTH, Hubby is stuck in VAP mode (albeit in better states than Nebraska, and as a Minnesotan I can say this) while special snowflake Author #2 gets a TT job. I apologize for bragging about Hubby but this article absolutely infuriates me, as if writing (a.k.a. “alleged torture,” *eyeroll*) is what got Snowflake a job. From what I’ve observed, publishing is a rigged lottery. The entire academic hiring process is a Bunuel film. But as a spouse who loves her academic, I continue to encourage and support while wishing Biblical plagues on search committees who hire regardless of merit, much less how much writing/publishing a candidate has done. (Although last month I told Hubby that FT Costco employees make 50% more than he does in his current position, so sometimes the devotion can waver. Sorry.)


  2. This story makes me wish we had a secret hand shake/fist bump. Cause I need a method for celebrating the awesomeness that is your connection between stories A, B, and C. So here’s a possible story D: Time magazine is wowed by the completely disinterested and altruistic tech bajillionaires who are volunteering their time to improve K-12 by fighting to end teacher tenure. We know they are on the right side of this fight because they couldn’t possibly stand to benefit.


  3. When I saw Story 1, I was surprised that anyone thought that “sage on the stage” was the current model of higher ed teaching. The transition to being a “guide at the side” is so commonplace that the CHE was publishing parodies of it in 2008 (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Antiprofessor-Speaks-Out/35866/). The term “sage on the stage” appears in the CHE (in an article about how technology will change everything!) as far back as 1997 (http://chronicle.com/article/Rethinking-the-Role-of-the/98112/).

    As for Story 2, I thought it was kind of annoying when I read it, but thanks to this post, I’ve now upgraded it to enraging.


    • Yeah, I ran over here to see if RS had a response already, too! I don’t know how to feel about that one — my attitude used to be RETIRE GO AWAY MAKE WAY FOR NEW HIRES but in the decade that I’ve been a faculty member I’ve seen the pattern be that… the faculty just shrinks with retirements, the old folks don’t get replenished, the tenure lines just go away. So at my institution when they were recently encouraging early retirement for budgetary reasons I was on the side of OLD FACULTY STAY ON AND RAISE HELL. They are at a career stage when they can really use their platform to savage higher ed trends and go after admin shenanigans with no risk to themselves, at all at all. Of course most of them don’t, but the math doesn’t work as “one old prof out, one new prof in”.


  4. Story 1, the guy has a doctorate in education but no apparent job. He’s identified as a speaker, etc. the job market for education doctorates is actually pretty good. Maybe he’s a sour grapes, “i don’t have a job so no one else should either” type. Time is a feeble shadow of its former self, as is Newsweek. Unreadable.

    Ps: have you been following the sad tale of General Theological Seminary in ny? 8 of their 10 full time faculty complained to the board about the dean, and the board “accepted” their “resignations.”


  5. Anyone who truly thinks instructional costs are high has never seen the average salary of a professor compared to the football coach’s. Or the average salary of a professor compared to really anything else in a higher ed budget.


  6. If we could all be so lucky to publish four articles during graduate school and end up in glorious Kearney, Nebraska. Having been on numerous search committees, I have found that almost all applicants are smart, hardworking, and “doing the right things.” Beyond that, it is simply luck. To imply anything else is at best delusional and at worst disingenuous.


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