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.)