No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

by Michael Bérubé on March 6, 2008

As I was sitting around the faculty lounge this morning, staring vacantly into space and dreaming of summers filled with golf, a busy colleague brought Mark Bauerlein’s latest blog post to my attention. It’s a response to a recent Wall Street Journal essay, it’s about faculty workloads, and it’s rather skeptical of reports about faculty workloads:

We have seen, indeed, many books and articles on the subject, such as Profscam by Charles Sykes, and when people hear about a 2-2 teaching load that means 6 classroom hours a week for 28 weeks out of the year, they wonder what all the complaining is about.

But Professor Kelly-Woessner maintains, “Our average workweek is 60+ hours. And unlike a regular job, where you come home at 5, we’re grading well into the evening.”

Can this be true, 60+ hours?

Maybe for some segments, such as teachers with a 4-4 load that includes heavy writing assignments on the syllabus. And maybe for assistant professors struggling to get the book finished before tenure time, or researchers in the sciences working on a timetable because of funding.

But if we look at tenured professors in the humanities and in many other disciplines, it seems to me that much of the work they do is entirely self-generated. The conference papers that have to be written, the scholarly articles they want to complete, the book projects that hang over them . . . these are not required. They are elective. Yes, they can enhance a career, extend a CV, or even contribute to the historical record– sometimes. But the fact is that the degree to which the vast majority of conference papers and articles in the humanities effectively change the working conditions of professors doesn’t come close to justifying the number of hours they spend on the projects. These projects fill their afternoons and evenings, and in my experience inside academia and out I have never heard any groups speak as loudly about how “busy” they are as professors do. Plainly, the situation makes many of them unhappy. So why do they do it? Is it really worth sweating all those months getting that manuscript in order– which upon publication will sell only a few hundred copies– just to boost your annual raise a few hundred dollars?

Why do they do it, indeed? Can anybody really care about Book V of The Faerie Queene and representations of British national identity? What’s the point of writing a manuscript on Victorian ideas about aesthetics or autonomy if only a few hundred readers or a few hundred bucks are at stake? And who the hell gives a flying frog about the history of ekphrasis or the work of the Cambridge Platonists, anyway?

Well, it just so happens that Professor Bauerlein has written on this subject before. On a website considerably less likely to be read by college professors, he wrote caustically, last fall, of

the mindset of people who’ve nursed resentments for many years within the artificial havens of one-party departments, tenure, and a 30-week work year. (Do not believe academics when they talk about summer research work. Outside the scientists, most of them are idle or labor on books and articles that they don’t have to write and that less than 50 people will read.)

Back then, I feared that Mark Bauerlein was succumbing to a pernicious kind of resentment-nursing himself. He’d started off, ten or fifteen years ago, with some fairly plausible critiques of coterie formation and groupthink in literary studies; but since testifying on behalf of David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights,” he’s gone precipitously downhill. Why, it was only three years ago that Bauerlein was championing the virtues of erudition and research over against the vices of the ignorant Theory ephebes; surely some of you will remember that telling exchange between his scholarly friend and a jejune young thing at the MLA:

When a colleague of mine returned from an MLA convention in Toronto around that time [the mid-1990s], he told a story that nicely illustrated the trend. One afternoon he hopped on a shuttle bus and sat down next to a young scholar who told him she’d just returned from a panel. He replied that he’d just returned from France, where he’d been studying for a semester

“Is there any new theory?”

“Yeah, in a way,” he answered. “It’s called ‘erudition.’”

“What’s that?” she wondered.

“Well, you read and read, and you get your languages, and you go into politics, religion, law, contemporary events, and just about everything else.” (He’s a 16th-century French literature scholar who comes alive in archives.)

She was puzzled. “But what’s the theory?”

“To be honest, there isn’t any theory,” he said.

“That’s impossible.” He shrugged. “Okay, then, give me the names, the people heading it.”

“There aren’t any names. Nobody’s heading it.”

So, to sum up: erudition is good, and so is coming alive in archives, except when it’s a complete waste of time and effort. And what would the new Mark Bauerlein say about the scandal of humanities faculty who spend an entire semester studying in France? All for the benefit of fifty readers and a few hundred dollars?

Bauerlein’s Decline was a pretty sad Hogarthian spectacle, I thought, and it suggested that there really is a slippery slope at work: you set out innocently one day to expose the groupthink of your liberal colleagues, and before you know it, you’re testifying next to Jack Kingston (who’s quite a prize himself) and complaining on the Internets about all the useless research your colleagues do. I used to admire erudition, but after 9/11, I’m outraged by low faculty workloads. It can only be a matter of time, I thought (however uncharitably), before Bauerlein joins the Horowitz Freedom Center-sponsored national Islamofascist Humanities Professors Work Only Six Hours A Week Thirty Weeks A Year Awareness Week tour.

But then I realized that there’s something else at work in these complaints about academic work: Bauerlein never stops to consider that professors serve on all kinds of committees and do all kinds of scutwork.

Ingrid touched on this a few weeks ago: every year, we serve as referees for those useless books and articles and for those pointless tenure and promotion cases, and as far as I can tell, nobody outside academe has the faintest idea what that involves. Every year, I get about ten to fifteen requests to review candidates for tenure and promotion; every year, I promise myself I will take no more than two or three, and every year I wind up doing about four or five. In the past two years, some of these cases have required me to read two medium-sized books and a couple dozen essays; that takes me about two or three weeks of “spare” time, and for future requests, my wife Janet has sagely advised me to ask department heads how much a candidate’s dossier weighs before agreeing to plow through it. On top of that, I review two or three book manuscripts and about a dozen essays for academic journals and presses.

Is this “work”? That’s a good question. I’ve worked as a foot messenger (back before faxes and email rendered them obsolete) and as a pizza deliveryguy (while writing my dissertation); I’ve worked as a typesetter and a legal proofreader (where at least I could count on having an air-conditioned workplace in the summer). Looking back over my employment history, I think my current job is just great, even though the English department building doesn’t have A/C. Most of the time, I learn new things and argue about ideas, and my workplace is exceptionally flexible and family-friendly. But am I working when I serve as a referee? It all depends on whether you consider reading and thinking to be work.

And then there’s committee work. The weird thing about the invisibility of academic committee work, I think, is that it actually resembles so strongly many other kinds of white-collar scutwork: it is not different in kind from the office-maintenance operations of law firms or insurance companies or advertising agencies—except that it involves a lot more reading. Search committees review the dossiers and writing samples of job candidates; personnel and advisory committees review the work of junior colleagues; dissertation committees review the work of graduate students; undergraduate administrative committees review the curriculum or the progress of honors students; admissions committees review the work of applicants to the graduate program; and sundry other committees draft strategic departmental plans for the dean, review the departmental bylaws, or adjudicate faculty and student grievances. It can be Dilbert work, sure, but much of it is critically important to the operation of an academic unit, and it’s really no different from the kind of mundane officework you’ll find in any professional office. And like so much officework (in law firms or insurance companies or advertising agencies), you never realize how important it is until a bunch of indifferent or incompetent people screw it up.

It’s true that much committee work, or “service,” is optional; the cohort of department curmudgeons can opt out of most of it (and you know the kind of people I’m talking about), and on the other side, the kind of national or disciplinary committee work involved in the American Association of University Professors or the various disciplinary associations like the Modern Language Association or the American Historical Association usually falls to people who have an especially strong sense of civic-professional duty. Which is to say, by the bye, that nobody does it for the fame or the money or the perks.

Of course, service work varies dramatically from faculty member to faculty member, and in some cases poses a serious equity problem: people with joint appointments (between two or more departments) are likely to find themselves with twice as many committee assignments as their colleagues with single-department appointments, and faculty of color, scarce as they are, can find themselves called upon to serve on every kind of “diversity” committee a campus can think of. And is it true that some forms of service (especially those involving undergraduates) are gendered? Very possibly– and the MLA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession is working on a report that investigates the possibility that some women get “stalled” in the associate professor rank because of excessive committee work. The recursive nature of a committee of women conducting a study of women’s service work has not been lost on the members of the committee.

So why is all of this scutwork and office-upkeep dreck invisible to someone like Mark Bauerlein, who actually has an academic job?

I think I have an idea. Once you’ve declared– emphatically and repeatedly– that you think your scholarly field consists largely of tommyrot and bollocks, and that you think your colleagues are largely a bunch of whiners and freeloaders, it’s very possible that your professional workload is going to decrease significantly. Very few academic presses and journals are going to ask you for your professional opinion on whether a manuscript is complete bollocks or merely sixty percent tommyrot; very few graduate students are going to approach you and ask you to direct their dissertations on how It’s All a Load of Nonsense Anyway; very few colleagues are going to ask you to serve a couple of years on the new interdisciplinary Bollocks and Tommyrot Studies committee. It’s possible that you’ll get kind of embittered about all this, but there’s an important upside.

If you’re teaching at an elite research university, you’ll soon find that you have many hours of free time every week, and you may not know what to do with yourself. If you’re of a certain cast of mind, you may well decide to use your leisure time to write about the blessedly light workloads of your colleagues who are doing the service-and-refereeing scutwork you no longer consider to be worth the time and effort.

It may seem like an exercise in bad faith, but it’s really nice no-work if you can get it. And you can get it if you try.

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{ 141 comments }

1

The Constructivist 03.06.08 at 5:55 am

I’ve worked as a foot messenger (back before faxes and email rendered them obsolete)

sorry, read that as foot massager. wasted 15 seconds trying to make the aside make sense. could/should have been working.

and yeah, whut u sed re: committee work.

2

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 6:00 am

You’re saying you wanted a foot massage, TC? All you had to do was ask. For now, however, I will refer you to my discussion of foot massages, Pulp Fiction, and the Habermas/ Lyotard debate in What’s Liberal. Because I am the foot f**kin’ master, and I know how to deal with incommensurability.

3

Ari 03.06.08 at 6:18 am

Thanks for the link. That was very nice of you. Also, do you have a link handy for something you wrote, way back when, on your blog: a piece explaining your in-laws’ incredulity that what you do, reading books and whatnot, is actually your work? I was looking for that post earlier today but couldn’t find it. Of course, I’m inept. So my not being able to find it doesn’t mean much.

4

nick s 03.06.08 at 6:23 am

If you’re of a certain cast of mind, you may well decide to use your leisure time to write about the blessedly light workloads of your colleagues who are doing the service-and-refereeing scutwork you no longer consider to be worth the time and effort.

In the place of academic scutwork, of course, comes wingnut welfare, which is not work, as the term itself helpfully makes clear. What is less self-evident is just how lucrative this non-work can be.

(Are there many anti-academic assistant profs or grad assistants? I presume not so much, given that they’re too effing busy the academy’s ideological homogeneity forces them into silence until tenure.)

5

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 6:25 am

do you have a link handy for something you wrote, way back when, on your blog: a piece explaining your in-laws’ incredulity that what you do, reading books and whatnot, is actually your work?

Way back when? On my blog? Au contraire, Ari, it was just late May of last year, right here on the Out of the Crooked Timber of Humanity, No Straight Thing Was Ever Made blog.

And I don’t think I ever tried to explain committee work to my in-laws. That would have been hard work! Hard, hard work.

6

R 03.06.08 at 6:34 am

I have never heard any groups speak as loudly about how “busy” they are as professors do.

He clearly hasn’t talked to any K-12 school administrators lately… Or any parents…

7

Ari 03.06.08 at 6:34 am

Awesome. Thanks. I really love that piece and cite it all the time to prospective graduate students, as I try to explain the complicated nature of what it is that we do and how what we do is perceived by friends and loved ones.

8

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 6:40 am

Thanks so much, Ari! I just looked at that old post again, and I’m struck by all the discussion of throgs in the comment thread. People must have had a lot of free time back in late May of 2007.

9

JP Stormcrow 03.06.08 at 6:53 am

… you’ll soon find that you have many hours of free time every week, and you may not know what to do with yourself.

You’re being unfair, don’t forget Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.

Hyperbole in defense of erudition is no virtue, litotes in defense of fairness is no vice.

10

AlanB. 03.06.08 at 7:21 am

So Michael I assume as a faculty member at Pennsylvania state-related school you have to fill out a Snyder report each year to tell the legislature how many hours your lazy liberal carcass spends doing all this work that does not need to be done. How much was it?

11

Otto Pohl 03.06.08 at 9:09 am

I think Dr. Berube’s post left off one very major component of academic work that consumes a lot time. I do not know about other institutions, but where I work we have to write a lot of letters of recommendation for students. I am currently writing one right now.

12

Great Zamfir 03.06.08 at 9:31 am

And the question you have nicely evaded: do you actually work 60 hours per week? If not, do you think you would be better person if you did? If you do, are you happy with it?

13

aaron_m 03.06.08 at 10:54 am

“one very major component of academic work…where I work we have to write a lot of letters of recommendation for students”

Unless it is hundreds of letters you are spending too much time on them.

14

Hidari 03.06.08 at 11:13 am

From the WSJ:

‘Apparently there is also a misconception among academics that people in “regular jobs” — not to mention the competitive professional jobs that academics might well aspire to if they did not choose to teach and write — stop working at 5 p.m. There are plenty of professors who put in long hours, but the past few decades have only made things easier. Courseloads have lightened. Semesters have shortened. And all those little extras that benefit students — sushi in the cafeteria, rock-climbing walls in the gym — have benefited faculty members, too’.

I love journalism. I mean as opposed to academic research. And I completely understand why journalists love journalism too, and despise academic research, and those who practice it. I mean, in an academic context you would have to actually justify the astonishing claim that in the ‘past few decades (things have become easier). Courseloads have lightened. Semesters have shortened.’ I mean you would have to do all sorts of dull stuff like produce quantitative evidence that this is the case (oh, sorry, I meant OTHER quantitative evidence, the kind that proves that the existing evidence base, which shows the opposite, is all wrong).

Booooooooooooring! Right kids? Instead why not just make things up in a pomo stylee, which will satisfy all your crazy (or should that be crazee?) right wing friends, and get you well paid gigs writing for the increasingly risible WSJ, as opposed to some yawn filled academic journal.

Anyway all academics, without exception, spend literally all their time sleeping with their students and playing golf. It’s a proven scientific fact, like Intelligent Design and the ‘solar fluctuations do it all’ theory of global warming.

15

novakant 03.06.08 at 12:54 pm

I think it is hard to generalize on these matters – I’ve encountered both incredibly lazy and incredibly busy professors. And from a student’s perspective the lazier ones could be just as good as or even better than the busy ones, if they were really gifted and cared about their subject and imparting their knowledge to the students. The good teachers tended to be either young assistant professors who put a lot of time into their classes and could connect well with the students because of the proximity in age or older professors who were so brilliant and well-read (ok, they must have been quite busy at an earlier point in their career doing all that reading) that they could effortlessly turn a bog-standard course into something inspiring and almost magical. The worst seemed to be those who were so busy furthering their careers, that teaching and thinking deeply about the subject matter itself appeared to be almost a negligible duty to them.

16

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 1:00 pm

Alan: Thanks for sending me into the Intertubes to retrieve the TPS reports from Pennsylvania’s state-related and state-pwned universities. The 2008 Instructional Output and Faculty Salary Costs report indicates that slackers at Penn State worked 51.5 hours a week. (In 2007 it was 51.6, but apparently some of us cut back on our workload by six minutes per week in order to do more blogging.) I’d put my own workload around 55 to 60, but as I’ve said many many times, including in What’s Liberal, I get to choose which 55 to 60, and most of my colleagues in other professions (let alone people in retail or manufacturing) don’t have that luxury.

I hope that answers your question too, Zamfir. And in return for the “nicely evaded” bit, I give you this.

17

Keith M Ellis 03.06.08 at 1:08 pm

I think there’s few things more tiresome than people bitching about how hard they work. Especially academics. Unless you’re a coal miner, shut the fuck up.

18

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 1:15 pm

Is someone bitching about how hard they work, Keith? If so, you have my permission to go and make them shut the fuck up. Don’t be gentle.

19

John Emerson 03.06.08 at 1:27 pm

Is it really worth sweating all those months getting that manuscript in order– which upon publication will sell only a few hundred copies– just to boost your annual raise a few hundred dollars?

This is the first time I’ve ever heard a conservative academic come out against research and writing in principle. Usually the claim is that professors don’t really do any research but just hang around chatting. Or that the research that they do is all wrong and boring and jargony and obvious.

I have known the stereotypical lazy professors, though. They had seniority and rank and taught the same few classes every year. The ones who really hated them (more than the students and the taxpayers did, but secretly, because the drones ran the place) were the junior and very junior faculty. This may happen more at lower-ranking schools.

20

Keith M Ellis 03.06.08 at 1:43 pm

“No, we really do work very hard and no one understands what we do” is perhaps closer to whinging than bitching, I suppose.

Seriously, do you not have even a little twinge of embarrassment? It’s hard to find a class more privileged than the academic PhD class. A large portion of the world works 60+ hour weeks at jobs that are entirely unrewarding—mentally, emotionally, and materially—and which are hazardous to their health and from which they earn no respect from anyone, ever.

Furthermore, far be it from me to be a know-nothing that wonders if, in fact, a new paper on the history of ekphrasis adds much to the world (after all, I, myself, have studied Ptolemaic astronomy in great detail)—but I feel certain that teaching adds considerably to the world and that’s a task that the majority of academics perversely resent…and shirk off as much of that workload to a captive class of extremely low-paid (by anyone’s standards) workers as they can, most of whom will not be lucky enough to ever get an academic job, much less a tenure-track position.

If it were nothing other than the fact that professorships are damn good jobs, all things considered, I wouldn’t be as annoyed. But the contemporary disrespect and avoidance of pedagogy along with the exploitative situation regarding the graduate student and post-doc class push anything smacking of complaints about workload right over the edge into something approaching outrageous.

21

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 1:56 pm

OK, Keith, what part of “I think my current job is just great” and “I’d put my own workload around 55 to 60, but as I’ve said many many times, including in What’s Liberal, I get to choose which 55 to 60, and most of my colleagues in other professions (let alone people in retail or manufacturing) don’t have that luxury” didn’t you understand?

Oh, right. Any of it. But one more time, because I am an extremely patient fellow: when professors respond to people who lie about our workloads, we’re not whining. We’re explaining some of the work that people never see. As I said, it resembles a lot of other white-collar work. Coal mining, not so much, though I appreciate your commitment to rhetorical opportunism. (And let the record show that Bauerlein’s claims about workload are not, repeat not, made on behalf of adjunct faculty and graduate students. You’d need to look instead to Marc Bousquet’s work for that.)

Finally, your remark that “the majority of academics perversely resent” teaching and fob it off on underlings is, yep, a know-nothing kind of thing to say. Actually, most of us enjoy teaching, and while there is indeed a large class of woefully underpaid college teachers, their existence isn’t actually the fault of a handful of snotty researchers. After that comment, you should be feeling that little twinge of embarrassment right about now! It’s time to get off the Internets and go study some Ptolemaic astronomy in great detail.

22

alwsdad 03.06.08 at 2:02 pm

Keith, have you got a link or other evidence (apart from you own personal anecdotes) that “the majority of academics perversely resent” teaching? That has not been my experience at all. (Sorry, I don’t have any hard data proving most academics like teaching, apart from the basic logic that people who choose to teach enjoy teaching.) (Your point about exploitation of grad assistants and post-docs is a separate issue, but hardly the fault of faculty in general.)

23

harry b 03.06.08 at 2:09 pm

Keith missed out another feature of our job that most other jobs lack — control over our time. I suspect I do work 50 hours at least some weeks, but I choose when those 50 hours are, and usually I work less than that.

A friend of mine who became a dean for a while said that being an academic at a research university is among the 2 or 3 best jobs in the world (he compared it, wrongly in my opinion, with being a rock star, which I’ve always regarded as one of the drearier of well paid jobs). His contrast was with being a dean, which doesn’t even get into the top 20.

And it is true that a lot of our job is self-generated. Much of what we (in the humanities) write will not be read. Susan Haack (complaining about philosophy in particular) has a nice comment in one of her essays, that whereas at one time people would spend 10 years writing a really good and important book that just might get read for a long time, now they write a book in 2 years, which has a similar shelf life. And Keith is right that, absent teaching (understood broadly, though) the idea that our jobs are socially productive is laughable.

So, no complaints from me. But its worth seeing the structure of the game. Anyone who is reasonably smart can go to Law School knowing they’ll become a lawyer and earn a good salary (doing a boring job). It is not a high-risk strategy (if you come from a comfortable background). Go to grad school in the humanities and you endure years of low pay, no status at all, with a very uncertain pay-off — the chances that you’ll luck into a job like mine (good salary, good working conditions, considerable status) are not that high, and are very much about luck (much as we would like to think it is merit, it ain’t — I started out with 2-2 job in a research university only because someone else turned the particular job down before it was offered to me — otherwise I’d have had a 3-3 job in a place which would have offered me far fewer early career opportunities). Looking at tenured humanities professors in research universities is like looking at premier league soccer players, and judging the whole profession by them.

24

christian h. 03.06.08 at 2:36 pm

I love these attempts by people like Bauerlein to split academia into the “good” sciences and the “lazy” humanities. Let the record show that this mathematician regularly produces work only a couple dozen people read, totally goofs off all summer long, and apparently has the time at 8:24am to write pointless blog comments.

So yes, we have great jobs. And yes, sometimes we complain about the grading we have to do, or the hundreds of job applications to read – even though we have nothing to complain about, all things considered.

So? It’s human. As is being pissed off by it. When some moron starts suggesting I write those papers no one reads for a tiny raise, though, I feel offended…

25

perianwyr 03.06.08 at 2:46 pm

Is someone bitching about how hard they work, Keith? If so, you have my permission to go and make them shut the fuck up. Don’t be gentle.

Isn’t bitching about how hard someone else doesn’t work a similar species of shithead? If so, can I mess those dudes up, too? Perhaps I will write a snide comment on a blog about them.

26

perianwyr 03.06.08 at 2:48 pm

also, everyone knows that coal miners are singing, dancing pleasant poor folk who while the day away with slip-jigs and polkas, occasionally catching black lung.

27

novakant 03.06.08 at 2:49 pm

I have known the stereotypical lazy professors, though. They had seniority and rank and taught the same few classes every year.

Well, it depends on the subject matter but in general I don’t see anything wrong with that, as long as the courses taught are really good. If someone is capable of holding a good seminar on, say, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which would entail being able to disentangle the mammoth sentences therein so that his students really understand what is being said there, to put the work into the context of the discussions of the time and to relate it to his later work – I’d say that’s a rare and a good thing and I don’t see why students shouldn’t get the opportunity to participate in such a class every year. The fact that the professor after a few years might be able to teach such a course without too much effort on his part, because he’s become really good at doing it, seems entirely irrelevant if his students are profiting from it.

Keith, have you got a link or other evidence (apart from you own personal anecdotes) that “the majority of academics perversely resent” teaching?

How is one supposed to quantify that objectively, it can only ever be anecdotal evidence. That said, it seems to me that a non-negligible percentage of professors resent teaching or are just not very good at it. This might have to do with the fact that having pedagogical talent is generally not a very important factor in the academic selection process.

28

Humanist 03.06.08 at 3:04 pm

I’ve got an idea- why don’t people who say professors don’t work try some qualitative work by asking people who came to the academy from jobs when they worked more, and asking those who leave the academy when they worked more? I’ve done that and in my experience, such people always (on both sides) claim to have worked more when they were in academia. Yes a lot of the work is “self imposed” but it becomes your sense of self. And whose to complain about social utility? What is “useful” about sports teams or television or advertising? Should we all become trash collectors?

29

alwsdad 03.06.08 at 3:14 pm

I can’t disagree with you, in general, novakant, but to make the assertion that a “majority perversely resent” teaching, without any evidence at all, is, I dunno, meaningless. No doubt some teachers hate teaching, and lots of other people with good jobs are unhappy in them as well. The academic selection process is certainly odd, but, anecdotally, I can say I mostly see teachers who care a lot about teaching, and many who are quite good at it. The bitter pills (like Bauerlien appears to be) just demand a lot of attention.

30

laura 03.06.08 at 3:27 pm

But Michael, I seem to remember you complaining about service work somewhere. Didn’t you write that meetings meant that you weren’t getting work done? I’m at a college where service work is overwhelming the younger faculty members. Some say that it’s more important than publications or teaching for getting tenure. Don’t you think that some of this service work should be reduced?

31

Timothy Burke 03.06.08 at 3:38 pm

Keith:

It really does seem to me that you missed Michael’s basic point here. It’s not “We work so hard, pity us, we suffer”. It’s “Bauerlein is both lying about the professorial work ethic and he’s making an incoherent claim about the production of knowledge that flatly contradicts his previous complaints about what he’d like to see in the humanities.” Part of that critical reply to Bauerlein requires describing the actual labor that faculty do: I don’t see how Michael can do otherwise.

32

c.l. ball 03.06.08 at 4:04 pm

Keith is missing key points:

- the white-collared, six-figure-paid, non-academics who complain that tenure-tracked faculty with 2/2 workloads only work 6 hours a week don’t know what they are talking about;
- faculty are not whining about their workload; they’re whining about people misrepresenting their workload;
- most faculty don’t resent teaching (I’m sure there are some who would prefer full-time research); they resent that teaching is under-valued by administrators. That itself is a consequence, in part, of the difficulty of measuring “good” teaching in a valid and reliable way. Finding teachers who have above average evaluations but below average course GPAs is one way, but even that is murky depending on how much the final exam median diverges from the pre-final median (data that most administrators don’t have).
- Keith is right that grad and post-doc labor is exploited, but let’s be clear about this. Faculty did not get together and say “let’s shaft grads and post-docs.” Administrators, those who control the budgets said, we’re not going to pay much for replacement labor when someone is on leave. Some albeit few schools do pay non-tenure track replacement faculty well (75-80% of first-year tenure -track salary, which accounts for the fact that visitors almost never do any ‘service’).
- many faculty do ask for or get “course relief” but this is because this is the easiest way to get more research time. You could cut their service requirements, but this means finding other faculty in your dept. to fill in for them. You’re robbing peter to pay paul in terms of faculty time within your dept. Hiring an adjunct brings someone outside the faculty in.
- canceling courses entirely is one way to go, but it does reduce a dept.’s enrollment, which matters at some schools, and it would eliminate the need for adjuncts but not create more full-time tenure-track positions. Moreover, some students will simply transfer to other classes, making them larger.
- let’s be clear about the adjunct market: eliminating under-paid (relative to tenure-track faculty even accounting for service exemptions) adjuncts does not mean that schools will create new tenure-track slots for them. Class sizes will be raised, or requirements cut.

33

fanboy 03.06.08 at 4:56 pm

There’s nothing more refreshing in the morning than to watch another episode of faculty smackdown and bask in the joy that my guy won!

34

Miriam 03.06.08 at 5:16 pm

Surely a more basic point is that 2-2 teaching loads are rare? They’re the province of R1/R2 campuses (and not always R2s) and upper-level liberal arts colleges (and not always those, either). Most of us will never see such a schedule.

35

bitchphd 03.06.08 at 5:21 pm

Bizarrely, some of the service work continues even when you do not, in fact, *have an academic job*. I still write reference letters for former students. I still occasionally read and comment on their work. I still occasionally reply to emails asking me for reading lists.

I suppose strictly speaking I don’t “have” to do it. After all, the students don’t have any leverage over me if I don’t. So therefore I suppose the logic is that it’s “not work.”

It is, however, professionalism.

36

Anderson 03.06.08 at 5:22 pm

The conference papers that have to be written, the scholarly articles they want to complete, the book projects that hang over them . . . these are not required. They are elective.

What. A. Moron.

Apparently, despite the Germanic heritage implied by his name, Bauerlein hasn’t heard of one of the better-known German inventions of the 19th century — the research university.

37

fanboy 03.06.08 at 5:23 pm

Even the more common four course load per semester involves a 12 work week, right? Something tells me that the torch-lit mob seeking to rout out what they see as the academic equivalent of welfare mothers aren’t going to be satisfied with 6 additional hours of classroom time.

38

mpowell 03.06.08 at 5:48 pm

Perhaps this work is elective, but isn’t the process of getting tenure all about demonstrating that you’re willing and capable of doing this elective work? I don’t know how you could then turn around and castigate professors for doing this work. One of the reasons that becoming a professor is made so damn difficult is b/c if you just let anyone in, none of this elective work would ever get done.

39

Karl Steel 03.06.08 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for this, not bizarro-MB. I know I always quote this in this context, but here’s Zizek:

“On the rare occasions when, owing to various kinds of social obligations, I cannot avoid meeting my relatives who have nothing to do with Lacanian theory (or with theory in general), sooner or later the conversation always takes the same unpleasant turn: with barely concealed hostility and envy lurking beneath a polite surface, they ask me how much I earn by my writing and publishing abroad, and giving lectures around the world. Surprisingly, whichever answer I give sounds wrong to them: if I admit that I earn what, in their eyes, is a considerable sum of money, they consider it unjust that I earn so much for my empty philosophizing, while they, who are doing ‘real work,’ have to sweat for a much lesser reward; if I tell them a small sum, they assert, with deep satisfaction, that even this is too much–who needs my kind of philosophizing in these times of social crisis? Why should we spend taxpayers’ money on it? The underlying premise of their reasoning is that, to put it bluntly, whatever I earn, I earn too much–why? It is not only that they consider my kind of work useless: what one can discern beneath this official, public reproach is the envy of enjoyment. That is to say, it soon becomes obvious what really bothers them: the notion that I actually enjoy my work. They possess a vague intuition of how I find jouissance in what I do; which is why, in their eyes, money is never a proper equivalent for my work. No wonder, then, that what I earn always oscillates between the two extremes of ‘too little’ and ‘too much’: such an oscillation is an unmistakable sign that we are dealing with jouissance.” (Plague of Fantasies, 53-54)

The problem here is pleasure. Maybe since we like what we do, we’re not sacrificing anything to keep ourselves afloat in the world of work. This screws up the whole distinction between leisure and work, work-hard-to-play-hard, &c., and all the various stoical logics so beloved by conservatives. After all, what do I do when I’m not writing an article, prepping to teach, doing my committee work, and when I’m done running errands? I read; I write (on blogs); I talk about books and movies.

40

Biz 03.06.08 at 6:24 pm

Academics work hard AND nobody understands what they do? My observation is mostly that academics work hard so that people won’t understand what they do.

41

Uncle Kvetch 03.06.08 at 6:26 pm

“That’s impossible.” He shrugged. “Okay, then, give me the names, the people heading it.”

“There aren’t any names. Nobody’s heading it.”

He left her standing there, mouth agape, and climbed into a taxi whose driver was from Kyrgyzstan and who told him how much he wished the Americans would come liberate his country and bring Democracy Whiskey Sexy and Cellphones.

Then he went to a dinner party attended by a bunch of liberal intellectuals, and when he told them he was a Bush supporter they spat on him and told him to get the hell out.

Can I call myself a journalist now?

42

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 7:07 pm

But Michael, I seem to remember you complaining about service work somewhere. Didn’t you write that meetings meant that you weren’t getting work done?

I only complain about service work on days that end in “y,” Laura. More seriously, I’ve complained in print (in the CHE, about ten years ago) about people who serve on committees largely to dither around and derail their work, and I certainly believe that committee work (in any professional setting) should be as efficient as possible — and never “overwhelming” for younger faculty members. (That’s an equity issue; see “people who don’t do any service anymore,” above.) But I also know that the committees on which I serve — like my department’s personnel committee, which oversees all tenure and promotion cases as well as biannual reviews of junior faculty as well as the dossiers and publications of all job candidates at every rank, even for joint appointments — do important work that really needs to be done and done well, because when it’s done badly the consequences are immediate and palpable.

43

John Emerson 03.06.08 at 7:57 pm

And so far no one has even mentioned the students who want to trade sex for grades, but don’t even bother to consider that you might not want to have sex with them (or as far as that goes, anyone).

Coalminers and construction workers never have this problem. (Or not coalminers anyway. UPS drivers, yes — lots).

44

Katherine 03.06.08 at 8:10 pm

Please note that consistently working 50-60 hours a week in any job is insane. There is a reason that the European Working Time Directive suggests that 47 1/2 hours a week as a maximum – much more than that is silly. No one should be generally working that many hours, whether they are coal miners or academics.

45

Dan Simon 03.06.08 at 8:44 pm

It’s kind of breathtaking–although not surprising, I suppose–just how badly you’ve missed Bauerlein’s point, Michael. The problem, I think, is that you’re just too close to the issue, and too personally invested, to see what he’s getting at. Perhaps I can help by presenting it from a greater remove…

“Damn sellouts”, says the talented-but-obscure jazz musician. “Instead of spending hours on end practicing, listening, jamming, living the music, they plunk out a bunch of mind-numbingly simple tunes, take the catchiest of them and hire a bunch of studio musicians to turn it into three minutes of ear candy, and make ten million dollars. And the worst of it is that instead of taking all that money and using it to create real music, they just invest it in their next ‘project’, which is inevitably every bit as empty and commercial as the previous one. What a colossal waste of effort!”

“What’s his problem?”, retorts the tunesmith. “First he complains that I’m not dedicated enough to my music, then he complains that I’m too dedicated to it. Well, let me tell you, I work as hard on my music as he does–probably even harder. It may look like a lot of fun and games, but there are personnel to be hired, tours to be managed, interminable lawyer meetings, creative meetings, financial meetings, advertising meetings–heck, I could produce ten times as many pop albums if it weren’t for all these damn meetings. Just thinking of all that missed airplay gets me so depressed I sometimes wonder why I even do it all. Then I hear one of my songs on the radio, and I feel much better.”

Does that help at all?

46

richard 03.06.08 at 9:03 pm

47: no.

47

tgb1000 03.06.08 at 9:31 pm

So Bauerlein is resentful he isn’t more famous? (He’s the “talented but obscure” one, right?) Now, the “tunesmith” is successful because he makes music people like. So likewise, humanities professors, despite all their committee work, are successful because .. . Wait, the bees are on the what now?

48

dsquared 03.06.08 at 9:48 pm

BEEP! BEEP! TOTALLY INSANE PROCESS ALERT!

In the past two years, some of these cases have required me to read two medium-sized books and a couple dozen essays; that takes me about two or three weeks of “spare” time,

in other words, the selection and assessment process for a mid-level tenured job in an American university is about three times as rigorous and time-consuming as that for a senior investment banker or top civil servant? That’s crazy, in the sense of totally disproportionate to the expected value that one might add through selection. Presumably it’s a defensive process? (ie aimed not so much at selecting the best candidate as justifying the decision to the unselected).

49

Timothy Burke 03.06.08 at 9:52 pm

I think Karl is right that the issue in part is that academics are understood to find their work (however much there is of it) personally satisfying, and that they make essentially autonomous decisions in many academic workplaces about what they devote their time to and in what measure. Bauerlein, it seems to me, is increasingly drifting towards a view that this is the unforgiveable sin, that in the new service economy of the 21st Century it is not enough to work long hours. Virtuous labor also has to involve a loss of autonomy and a loss of pleasure, that any professional work which is not unpleasant and lacking in autonomy is intolerably elitist because those are not conditions that most white-collar workers enjoy.

50

John Emerson 03.06.08 at 10:02 pm

Not everyone is as admiring of investment bankers as investment bankers are, Dsquared. A top historian is more or less 3x times more interesting than a top investment banker.

51

Dan Simon 03.06.08 at 10:16 pm

Okay, I guess analogies are too tricky for this crowd…

It’s not a contradiction to say that on the one hand, academics in the humanities have cushy lives because they’re well paid to teach a small courseload and produce a bit of pointless crap they call “research”–and on the other hand, that they inexplicably choose to spend their copious free time churning out much more pointless crap than they need to. Nor does it matter that much of this extra work involves manning the bureaucracy generated by the pointless crap industry, rather than directly generating the pointless crap itself.

Of course, one could argue–and I gather that Michael does, routinely, and at length–that humanities scholarship isn’t pointless crap. But that argument isn’t well served by bogus claims of inconsistency in one’s opponents.

52

Righteous Bubba 03.06.08 at 10:18 pm

Okay, I guess analogies are too tricky for this crowd…

I prefer chains of one-letter-per-side blocks for all important messages.

53

dsquared 03.06.08 at 10:20 pm

52: On the basis of having met one of each in the last six months I’d say the ratio was no more than 1.5x. But Michael isn’t spending his two or three weeks on top historians – there aren’t fifteen of those cases coming up every year. He’s doing it for mid- and entry-level grunts, the third-year associates of history.

54

harry b 03.06.08 at 10:32 pm

I’m with dsquared on the tenure review stuff. And we have a model of an academic job market that work enormously more efficiently, which is the UK. It may be the only respect in which UK academia works better than US academia, but I simply don’t believe they make worse decisions than we do.

55

Kathleen 03.06.08 at 11:08 pm

Actually, Dan Simon kind of clarifies the central disagreement here — if the humanities are a giant Pointless Crap machine, it is pretty silly of humanities profs to toil any more of their days away at it than is minimally necessary (I’m not sure what minimum necessity would be, presumably producing just enough Pointless Crap to keep the Pointless Crap machine making that nice humming noise to which everyone has grown accustomed).

But if the humanities are NOT a giant Pointless Crap machine — if they produce some inevitable quantities of Pointless Crap (as does any human enterprise, after all) but mostly produce Pointy Virtues, then it matters that some people do put in the effort to keep the whole thing humming along in all its particulars: research, service, teaching.

As a young faculty member at an institution that is very good about supporting the first and also about not overloading us with the second, I can tell you the third (a mere 2/2 load) is just about killing me. I don’t pretend it’s because it’s harder than coal-mining; it’s just hard in the way any complex, high-stakes task at which one is not very adept nor experienced is hard. But I don’t think “oh thank god I don’t have to concern myself with the nonsense of committee work”. I think, “hooray it’s getting done mostly without my help for now”.

56

Michael Bérubé 03.06.08 at 11:15 pm

Dan Simon @ 47: yes, you’re right, I totally missed that point about the obscure jazz musician and the olive tree. But I think I quite clearly suggested that once someone declares his entire field to be pointless crap, he finds to his delight that he has a lot more free time on his hands while his colleagues pick up the slack. So I think I’ve got that part right.

57

asarwate 03.07.08 at 12:22 am

So I’m in engineering, but

The conference papers that have to be written, the scholarly articles they want to complete, the book projects that hang over them . . . these are not required.

is ridiculous. You don’t get tenure or keep your job if you’re not writing for the greater glory of the university etc etc. Furthermore, in the sciences and engineering you’re expected to lure in big fat juicy grants, which require articles, conference papers, and the proposal itself… it’s a funny definition of required that’s being used here.

People I know in the humanities may have fewer grants to go after and the tenure requirements are more draconian. Who is he trying to kid?

58

Laleh 03.07.08 at 12:27 am

As someone who was a management consultant for 7 years before becoming an academic, I always cringe when some arrogant ass gets on the radio and talks about how academics need to have a taste of the “real world”… What real world?

As management consultants, you do crap work for extraordinarily low payment while your firm charges the client 10-20 times per hour what it pays you. Your work often puts people out of a job without improvements in productivty or efficiency. You could work 60 hours a week, but you also get to charge your client for dinners and lunches and drinks. And what you do is routinely boring, intellectually stifling, and profoundly conformist.

As an academic, working at a half-broke UK university, there are no free lunches or dinners or drinks. I still work around 60 (or more) hours a week. A lot of it is crap. Nevermind the committee-work, as the universities are transformed into over-legalistic factories for producing degrees, we also have to produce loads of paperwork to show our increasingly stingy public funders what sort of work we are doing, for how long, etc. etc. etc. The joy comes when you read something extraordinary or you transform a student’s life by introducing them to something extraordinary. So yes, we do work har, but at least I love what I do, I am constantly inspired, and I am not putting anyone out of a job.

59

sara 03.07.08 at 12:29 am

If you have an OCPD-type personality, you will generate your 50-60 (or 80) hour workweek automatically, especially in a field like Classics or Ancient History with a great mass of publication and with a Germanic tradition of exhaustive citation and of hostile reviewers. Maybe some academic disciplines are naturally more laid-back, or focus more on arguing ideas than on piling up citations.

The danger is that you will burn out from not being able to see the forest for the trees. I washed out of academic interviews because I was asked to describe the forest. I also suspect that I was no fun.

60

Dan Simon 03.07.08 at 12:49 am

Point taken, Michael–although you didn’t (explicitly) make that key leap from, “I think it’s all pointless crap, therefore I have nothing left to do”, to, “I think it’s all pointless crap, therefore everybody else might as well be as idle as me, for all the good they’re doing”.

But I think you’re selling my analogy a bit short. Bauerlein isn’t just arguing that modern “professional” humanities scholarship, in which academics churn out research product in volume to impress their colleagues, win status points in the discipline and increase their salaries and perks, is all pointless crap. He’s also arguing for a more “amateur” model, in which academics devote their lives to some scholarly labor of love that few may appreciate, but that the world will be, in their eyes, a far better place for their having completed. Part of that model is an acceptance of likely obscurity and penury–or an alternate source of income–as the price of amateur devotion, as well as embrace of teaching as a way of imparting one’s love to one’s students. I think the analogy to jazz musicianship is actually quite apt–few make it big, most accept low pay or alternate employment, and all see themselves as devotees first, evangelists second, and professionals last.

The professional scholar, on the other hand–like the professional tunesmith–seeks, above all, the approval of a fussy and fickle audience, and is always looking for the precise formula for winning that approval. Personal satisfaction, the greater glory of the discipline, the admiration of posterity–all take a back seat to the short-term verdict of “the community”. For the modern scholar, as for the modern music producer, keeping abreast of that audience, understanding its politics and culture, and figuring out how to cater to it, is all that matters.

Now, I don’t doubt that you consider Bauerlein’s model of amateur scholarship every bit as pointlessly crappy as he considers yours. But however ludicrous you may find it, does it really arouse not the slightest twinge of sympathy in you?

61

John Emerson 03.07.08 at 1:05 am

A bit of pointless crap they call “research”—and on the other hand, that they inexplicably choose to spend their copious free time churning out much more pointless crap than they need to.

Definitely this provides a solid foundation for a thoughtful discussion of the topic.

62

someguy 03.07.08 at 1:23 am

I’ve got no dog in this fight, but I’ll just say I find the argument in #62 unconvincing. Looking at his page at Emory, Professor Bauerlein’s career appears to follow the “professional” model, not the “amateur” one. How do you know that’s what he prefers, especially based on that one blog post? (I of course have no way of knowing how much service work he does. But if he thinks the entire enterprise is pointless crap, I sure wouldn’t want him on my examining committee.) And there are plenty of “professional” scholars who love their subject areas and who love communicating that to students. Can you prove otherwise? And lastly, no offense to the inhabitants of Crooked Timber, but apart from this small microcosm of the blogosphere, is there anything more obscure than a humanities professor already? So no, the whole “art vs. commerce” analogy really doesn’t hold up.

63

christian h. 03.07.08 at 1:23 am

So, dan, are you saying Bauerlein wants the “professional man of leisure” (or, to put it German, “Privatgelehrte”) back? Trust-fund babies as our researchers? Then he’s even more of a moron than I thought he is.

Next he’s going to claim that no beauty can be created without really rich people as patrons, and that all good music is made by hungry, syphilitic artists…

And finally, he’s going to fall prey to his German name and is going to rant about “Germanic culture” vs. inferior “Anglo-Saxon civilization.”

64

SEK 03.07.08 at 1:53 am

How do you know that’s what he prefers, especially based on that one blog post?

someguy, you may not have noticed the links in Michael’s posts, but they point to the lengthy depths of his engagements with Mark. Heck, I made an ass of myself in this regard three years ago (which ain’t even a very long time, considering what Michael’s linked for you to consider).

65

John Emerson 03.07.08 at 2:04 am

“Haul on the Bauerlein!” we sang that melody,

Like all tough sailors do when they’re far away at sea.

66

Colin Danby 03.07.08 at 3:08 am

Right, Dan: you shouldn’t get paid for research *or* recognized for it. The moment you do, you’ve like, sold out, man. Really you shouldn’t even publish, and certainly not in any peer-reviewed venue, because then you’re courting recognition and buying into the machinery of academic approval.

67

Colin Danby 03.07.08 at 3:12 am

Actually, someguy, many of us social scientists have a pretty good line in obscurity too. What Bauerlein and his fans want is not just obscurity but abjection.

68

jj 03.07.08 at 3:59 am

Sorry, Mike, but I’m with Keith on this one. Academics are indeed the secular clerics of the postmodern state. It’s not much of a consolation to know that you guys make less than the titans of industry; you’re the gatekeepers of the cultural aristocracy, and your capital is correspondingly cultural. Out here in the surreal world, the artists fly through the air without the benefit of a safety net, and many of our landings are hard, and often quite terminal. It’s not just envy that motivates our resentment.

69

Janice 03.07.08 at 4:08 am

You’ve done such a wonderful job of skewering Mark Bauerlein’s ill-considered argument in this post. Certainly that should count as “service to the discipline”? Or at least be worth a drink or two at the pub, should you ever venture up towards my neck of the woods.

70

Dan Simon 03.07.08 at 5:52 am

And there are plenty of “professional” scholars who love their subject areas and who love communicating that to students.

…And plenty of commercial musicians who love making their music and love the adoring crowds. The point is that their love for their work is simply different from the love that true amateurs have for their passion. Reasonable people can differ regarding which, if either, is superior, but they’re clearly different.

So, dan, are you saying Bauerlein wants the “professional man of leisure” (or, to put it German, “Privatgelehrte”) back? Trust-fund babies as our researchers?

I doubt it. If you’re doing something that doesn’t pay very well, then obviously being rich helps. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of aspiring jazz musicians, say, are wealthy hobbyists. More likely, they pay the rent by getting low-paying jobs that give them the maximum room to devote themselves to their art: teaching music, working in a jazz club, deejaying for a small radio station. Likewise for humanities scholars, who can always get teaching jobs at some level, after all.

Right, Dan: you shouldn’t get paid for research or recognized for it. The moment you do, you’ve like, sold out, man.

My point exactly–you can certainly argue that humanities research in particular isn’t a good candidate for the cult of authenticity, but who hasn’t at one time or another sympathized with the general sentiment of preferring passionate amateurs over methodically trained professionals?

71

sbk 03.07.08 at 7:25 am

Dan Simon (in general): I just don’t see even an implicit argument for amateurism in the blog post to which Berube is responding. Not at all. Are you reading that somewhere else? Can you give more specifics? If you’re outlining your own sympathetic reading, that’s fine, but in that case I’m not sure it’s fair to tell Berube (and others) that they’re missing the point.

As I read it, Bauerlein’s post was just a fragment: he raised a question and left it open to debate, without moving on to make recommendations. It is a pretty bizarre question, but the guy has an obvious antisocial streak— which is itself mildly fascinating, in that it’s a common characteristic of literary-studies types (especially men), and yet he seems to be trying very hard to convince everyone that given the choice between writing crap for Horowitz and writing about literature, he’d take the former every time. I mean, I’m convinced, which is why it’s taken a considerable effort to give a shit about him for the duration of this comment. I was pretty much with John Emerson @ 20.

72

Neil 03.07.08 at 9:03 am

I suppose people have not responded to Dan Simon’s claims because they don’t take them seriously enough. Certainly Michael’s response was to dismiss them as silly (a fact Dan missed). Just in case, though, I will take it on myself to point that he has misread Bauerlein as much as he has misread Michael. Bauerlein says that the work humanities academics do is worthless even when it ‘contributes to the historical record’. He is not comparing the humanities prof to the tunesmith, he is saying that both the tunesmith and the real musician are wasting their time, and then whining about it.

FWIW, I work hard (around 55 hours/week) and have no right to complain about it. I spent maybe 10 hours of that on things I dislike, on average and the rest is exactly what I would do were I a person of leisure. I still can’t believe that they pay me for this.

73

ajay 03.07.08 at 12:17 pm

Anyway, I suspect Dsquared has missed an important point: when MB says that “In the past two years, some of these cases have required me to read two medium-sized books and a couple dozen essays; that takes me about two or three weeks of “spare” time”,. the important word is “spare”.
I don’t think (though please correct me) that he means he drops everything else and does nothing but wade through essays and books all day for two or three weeks. That would be insane. The case-related reading happens in “spare” time – ie evenings, weekends etc when he would otherwise be pursuing whatever hideous and unspeakable activities normally occupy his free time.

That brings the time burden down a good deal, to something closer to the man-hours that a top hiring decision takes at an investment bank.

Which are impressive. Anecdotally, some banks hiring fairly low-level personnel (not talking about division heads here) will go through nine interview rounds. That’s nine interviews of at least an hour each, involving anything from two to six interviewers. Multiply that up, add in time for internal discussions after each interview, background checks, references and so on, and the bank could be spending more than one full-time man-week per candidate for these positions. I doubt that two or three weeks’ spare-time reading by one professor, however Dangerous, equates to that.

74

Barry 03.07.08 at 1:25 pm

ajay, that’s the work required by one person; reviews might be done by more than one. Tenure reviews definitely so; article reviews, definitely so.

75

Michael Bérubé 03.07.08 at 1:47 pm

I suppose people have not responded to Dan Simon’s claims because they don’t take them seriously enough. Certainly Michael’s response was to dismiss them as silly (a fact Dan missed).

Partly silly, yes, but also weird and incoherent. So let me try again, less facetiously. When it suits purpose (a), namely, trashing Theory, Mark Bauerlein extols the erudition of a 16th-century French literature scholar who comes alive in archives and who spends a semester studying in France. When it suits purpose (b), namely, complaining about his colleagues and representing them as privileged and underworked, he says that their research is pointless crap and that they work 30-week years. He even tells people, “Do not believe academics when they talk about summer research work. Outside the scientists, most of them are idle or labor on books and articles that they don’t have to write and that less than 50 people will read.” This would seem, how shall I say, rather unkind to 16th-century French literature scholars who come alive in archives, and it would suggest that their research in France is more or less merde.

Now, how Dan Simon can read Bauerlein and come up with this –

Bauerlein isn’t just arguing that modern “professional” humanities scholarship, in which academics churn out research product in volume to impress their colleagues, win status points in the discipline and increase their salaries and perks, is all pointless crap. He’s also arguing for a more “amateur” model, in which academics devote their lives to some scholarly labor of love that few may appreciate, but that the world will be, in their eyes, a far better place for their having completed.

– is quite seriously beyond me, but possibly that’s because I’m too dim to understand musical analogies. Suffice it to say that I think Dan Simon is humming along to an imaginary Mark Bauerlein composition that only he can hear.

76

JP Stormcrow 03.07.08 at 1:48 pm

… when he would otherwise be pursuing whatever hideous and unspeakable activities normally occupy his free time.

And thus our preference for “passionate amateurs over methodically trained professionals” is doubly thwarted, both on the ice and in academe.

77

Danielle Day 03.07.08 at 3:01 pm

Trudging off to work on summer morning, i noticed my neighbor, a superintendent of schools, working in the garden. I made a comment to the effect that “Boy, you guys have it easy”. He smiled, put down his trowel, and said (i remember these exact words) “Yeah. It’s a racket.”

78

richard 03.07.08 at 3:08 pm

Virtuous labor also has to involve a loss of autonomy and a loss of pleasure, that any professional work which is not unpleasant and lacking in autonomy is intolerably elitist because those are not conditions that most white-collar workers enjoy.

that doesn’t mean that the majority of aspiring jazz musicians, say, are wealthy hobbyists. More likely, they pay the rent by getting low-paying jobs that give them the maximum room to devote themselves to their art: teaching music, working in a jazz club, deejaying for a small radio station. Likewise for humanities scholars

There we have it. Scholarship in the humanities is a field of entertainment, and that cannot legitimately be called work. Unless it’s tied to really virtuous drudgery, which can somehow justify it.

I think that utter waste of space Mary Douglas might have skewered this whole line of argument: people invent reasons for disliking things, which can then serve as the basis for action. She focused on “impure” and “dangerous,” these categories allowing for the most obvious of violent actions, but I think “pointless,” “boring” and “irrelevant in the marketplace” are no less part of the same process. When I was in high school, maths suddenly became quite hard. many pupils found they couldn’t do it. That made them feel bad. That was exactly the moment when the utility argument got wheeled out: “why do I need to know this?” they’d ask. “I’m never going to use it in my work. This is pointless.”

I don’t know how often these same people have needed Pi or Pythagoras in their daily lives after school. Among those who became housewives or burger-flippers, I’d guess hardly at all. Somehow those easier disciplines didn’t bring out the utility argument, however.

79

tyrone slothrop 03.07.08 at 3:36 pm

Why, again, was Mary Douglas an “utter waste of space?” I stopped reading after that, so if you pointed out where Mary Douglas rose to the level of “utter waste of space” I missed it. I’ve rather enjoyed her work, may not agree with it all, but enjoyed it none-the-less. I also recognized her scholarship and hardly find the claim that she was as “utter waste of space” useful. But if you have evidence that she was an “utter waste of space”…

80

richard 03.07.08 at 3:57 pm

re:81; oh dear. I hope I haven’t also missed the basic irony underlying this whole discussion.

81

tyrone slothrop 03.07.08 at 4:06 pm

Indeed.

82

richard 03.07.08 at 4:29 pm

no, tyrone, I meant that if you had read the rest of the comment you would know I was making an ironic reference to the discussion above in singling out Mary Douglas, whose work I consider to be of the highest value in illuminating social judgment, as a “waste of space.”

As a researcher in the humanities (or social sciences – I’m not sure if they get a free ride out of this discussion or not) she also stands accused of being ‘pointless,’ and yet I think her work contains an answer, not only to the question: “are humanities studies worthless?” but also the deeper question: “why might some people judge them to be worthless and get all excited about it?” Her analysis of the behaviour of some obscure bunch of people who are themselves quite irrelevant to the Western, capitalist marketplace shows itself to be useful in understanding the hostility expressed toward academics and their pay/work ratios. My implication, which I thought was clear, is that perhaps some other work carried out by humanities researchers might be useful, too. Or at least more useful than the act of decrying their work without some sort of coherent argument, which seems to be what keith, dan simon and Zizek’s relatives are up to.

83

Dan Simon 03.07.08 at 4:52 pm

Michael, you keep coming back to that phrase, “comes alive in archives”–and indeed, I believe that’s the source of your confusion. You seem to think that what Bauerlein means by this phrase is simply, “humanities scholarship”–you know, like other humanities scholars do. What I’ve been trying to explain to you is that Bauerlein sees what his friend does as fundamentally different from conventional humanities scholarship, in much the same way that jazz improvisation is different from hit song composition. It’s driven by passion, rather than desire to please an audience; guided by inspiration, rather than methodology; and has as its end goal a personal ideal state (“erudition”) rather than a product (a publication).

Again, you’re entitled to argue that this distinction is unimportant, or that it reflects badly on Bauerlein’s favored model of research, rather than your own. But to ignore it is, well, to miss Bauerlein’s point completely.

84

Colin Danby 03.07.08 at 5:24 pm

Hadn’t figured you and Bauerlein for hippies.

85

Michael Bérubé 03.07.08 at 5:52 pm

What I’ve been trying to explain to you is that Bauerlein sees what his friend does as fundamentally different from conventional humanities scholarship, in much the same way that jazz improvisation is different from hit song composition. It’s driven by passion, rather than desire to please an audience; guided by inspiration, rather than methodology; and has as its end goal a personal ideal state (“erudition”) rather than a product (a publication).

I hear you, Thelonious my man. (Hey, speaking of T. Sphere, why doesn’t Charlie Rouse get the credit he deserves as a world-class musician?) But what I’ve been trying to explain to you is that Bauerlein’s screeds about faculty workload serve another purpose altogether. He’s not arguing that scholars should be driven by passion; he’s arguing that scholars should not be driven at all. Or did you miss the title of his piece? It’s called “Stop Pushing Yourself.”

To miss that aspect of Bauerlein’s complaint about the pointlessness of faculty work is, well, to miss Bauerlein’s point completely. Again.

86

George 03.07.08 at 6:18 pm

…has as its end goal a personal ideal state (“erudition”) rather than a product (a publication).

How bizarre. Is this really Bauerlein’s argument? Surely not. How much of an egomaniac does one have to be, exactly, to imagine that all of the money and effort that go into maintaining an archive of materials (much less the money and effort that go into getting to and from those archives) are there so that one can achieve a “personal ideal state”?

Those of us who do research in the humanities turn around and share our thoughts about what we find with others, not only through publication but also through teaching (I have a 4-4, btw) and through giving talks to the general public.

To miss that important aspect of humanities research is to miss the point of research completely.

87

Keith M Ellis 03.07.08 at 6:40 pm

Certainly the majority of academics I’ve known (excepting the faculty at my alma mater, but it’s very much an exception) have resented teaching. All my friends who are/were academics resented teaching, but then they were all in the sciences. I suppose the humanities might be better, but I’m not sure why I would suppose that. Finally, when almost all undergraduate classes in US universities are taught by grad students, I’m not exactly clear on why I should be expected to assume that my own anecdotal experience of what academics prefer should be extraordinary. Are most clamoring for more teaching loads but rebuffed by administrators? Really?

And, yes, I understand that the context here is responding to a critic that ought to be responded to. I’m certainly no fan of Horowitz or his fellow travelers. Even so, you spend a lot of time defending the claim that you work very hard. If that’s not the part that you are primarily interested in, why is that the majority of your post?

88

someguy 03.07.08 at 6:56 pm

I’ve only read the few Bauerlein pieces linked in the post above, but I see nothing there to support Dan Simon’s interpretation. The Chronicle blogpost says nothing about passion or erudition. And if he doesn’t care about having a large audience for his ideas, why is he blogging for the Chronicle anyway? (Large relative to the audience of any humanities prof, that is.)

89

Rob Barrett 03.07.08 at 7:03 pm

RE #89:

In my experience, the increased teaching load placed on the shoulders of graduate students has resulted in a generation of young scholars who prefer teaching to research. I saw that with my own peers in graduate school in the 1990s, and I see it in the graduate students I’m currently teaching and advising. These are people who identify first as teachers, not as researchers–they want to be in the classroom, and they want the promotion structure to acknowledge that work even at R-1 institutions (which pay official lip service to pedagogy even while they silently ignore it). I can therefore state with some confidence that, at least in English studies, the lower ranks of the faculty are quite happy to teach.

90

tyrone slothrop 03.07.08 at 7:20 pm

Richard,

Let me try this again: Indeed. I got it the first time. But “thanks” for spelling it out.

91

Thers 03.07.08 at 7:44 pm

I spend my work week in the drudgery of teaching, grading, committee meetings, advising, and so forth. But, man, I live for the weekends, when my buds & I head out to the garage and just rock out, man, with some Faerie Queen or the variorum Yeats — maybe toss back some suds & do a Foucault jam, you know?

We’re thinking of maybe playing out, doing some conference gigs, but that’s like, you know, not what it’s all about. It’s about the scholarship, man.

Peace out.

92

George 03.07.08 at 8:05 pm

…when almost all undergraduate classes in US universities are taught by grad students…

This is not anywhere close to the truth.

93

Keith M Ellis 03.07.08 at 8:18 pm

”This is not anywhere close to the truth.”

Really? What is it then? Half? Let’s exempt community colleges.

94

Michael Bérubé 03.07.08 at 8:49 pm

All my friends who are/were academics resented teaching, but then they were all in the sciences. I suppose the humanities might be better, but I’m not sure why I would suppose that.

OK, so Mark Bauerlein writes stuff that says, “scientists’ research is real, but humanists are just goofing off and writing pointless things nobody reads,” and Keith Ellis says, “professors resent teaching,” and I say, um, no we don’t, and Keith says, “well, I don’t know any humanists, but I bet they resent teaching just like my scientist friends do.” Why, I wonder, isn’t Keith upset by Bauerlein’s claims about the sciences?

I feel like I’m dealing with an Arguing in Bad Faith Club in this thread. So now I know where Mark Bauerlein gets his fans! Not to slight the Just Making Shit Up Club, in which people say that graduate students do all (or maybe just half) of the undergraduate teaching in the United States– even though they don’t even exist at most liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities, and teach classes mostly at one or two hundred research universities.

95

alwsdad 03.07.08 at 11:13 pm

Well here in the engineering college of a Big 12 university, none of the undergraduate courses are routinely taught by graduate students. (There is the occasional exception when a prof. is on sabbatical, etc.) But in general, no engineering course is taught by grad. students. Yes, some gen ed. courses are taught by graduate students, but nowhere near half, much less “almost all”.

96

Kenny Easwaran 03.08.08 at 12:15 am

Re: 72

who hasn’t at one time or another sympathized with the general sentiment of preferring passionate amateurs over methodically trained professionals?

I haven’t.

97

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 12:35 am

“well, I don’t know any humanists, but I bet they resent teaching just like my scientist friends do.”

I did not say that. Who’s arguing in bad faith? I said that my friends have mostly been in the sciences but I didn’t say that accounted for all the academics I’ve known. I’ve known many academics that complain about their teaching loads, both in the sciences and humanities. Do you really think that having studied Ptolemy (at a liberal arts college) I’d not have known any humanists?

Although my personal experience doesn’t really reflect this, I’ll go along with a generalization that humanities faculty are probably happier to teach than are scientists. But the fundamental dynamic isn’t that different—you describe it above. Humanists have their own research to do; it determines their careers far more strongly than does teaching.

As for graduate students not existing at most liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities…that’s simply not true. I have no idea why you are asserting this. The majority of liberal arts colleges have graduate schools and pretty much all universities do. Or are you speaking of non-US schools? I’m not. Really, how can I take seriously someone who claims that most schools of higher education in the US don’t have graduate students?

Yes, the smaller and private liberal arts colleges use few or no grad students to teach. But liberal arts colleges account for a tiny portion of the entire population of undergraduate higher education in the US. The majority is accounted for by state schools, with a few large private schools in the mix. All of those use grad students for teaching.

Also, I’m including in “grad student taught” classes those which are lectured by the grad students, even if they are otherwise under the direction of a faculty member.

Exempting “general ed” classes is disingenuous.

98

Righteous Bubba 03.08.08 at 12:48 am

As for graduate students not existing at most liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities…that’s simply not true. I have no idea why you are asserting this.

I don’t know what the actual numbers are but there are a lot of places that don’t give degrees above master level.

Massachussets regionally accredited colleges for instance:

http://www.neasc.org/roster/pssma.htm

99

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 12:58 am

“I don’t know what the actual numbers are but there are a lot of places that don’t give degrees above master level.”

And…?

100

Righteous Bubba 03.08.08 at 1:16 am

And…?

And turn your outrage meter from kill past stun to tickle and remember the starting point was:

Finally, when almost all undergraduate classes in US universities are taught by grad students

101

Colin Danby 03.08.08 at 1:22 am

I encourage you to find us better data, Keith, but five minutes of googling produced this
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/append/c2/at02-03.pdf
which shows total 2001 enrollment in 4-year institutions (the first eight columns) of about 8.9 million, of which only 4.3 million (the first four columns) even have graduate students available who might do any teaching.

I leave it to you to track down the percentage of courses or undergrads *at the grad-degree granting institutions* that are taught by graduate students. A little looking around, and my own experience at several places, suggests it is usually under ten percent. But hey, surprise us with data.

102

BarnicleBoy 03.08.08 at 1:23 am

Apparently reading comprehension and basic logic are not required for a degree in Ptolemy Studies. Pulling numbers out of your ass, however, is a key prerequisite.

103

Badger 03.08.08 at 2:11 am

Good concept. The laid-back Fonzarelli character from Happy Days, thirty years later, tenured, staring aimlessly out the window and his acolyte brings him news about the despicable Professor Liverwurst, who is also claiming to be laid-back. The Fonz calls for his computer. Liverwurst is not really laid back, its just that since he said the kind of work Fonz and his people do is shit, nobody likes him any more, so they don’t give him anything to do. Storm-clouds gather. Very nice, good tension. But it does downhill: the writing is really shoddy so the laugh lines don’t work; Fonz is made to fly into a rage more than once when people don’t get his jokes, which doesn’t fit his character; and the plot doesn’t really go anywhere either, so it turns into a free-for-all where none of the characters is really fleshed out. Also it could be a lot shorter.

104

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 2:23 am

“2001 enrollment in 4-year institutions (the first eight columns) of about 8.9 million, of which only 4.3 million (the first four columns) even have graduate students available who might do any teaching.”

No. All of the first eight columns, as categories, have graduate students. Repeat after me: students in Master’s programs are graduate students. Many liberal arts colleges grant Master’s degrees and some grant doctorates. You cannot claim that any of those eight categories don’t include graduate students. At any rate, graduate enrollment is not what that chart is intended to show. It’s a poor choice for this argument.

Furthermore, if we were to go by your numbers, you’re saying that about half of those students go to schools with graduate students. That’s right there, on its face, a contradiction to Michael’s claim that most schools don’t have graduate students. So not only is disincluding categories 5-8 wrong; but even if we do disinclude them it indicates that Michael is wrong.

So, you know, someone here has problems with “reading comprehension and basic logic” but it’s not me.

My “and…?”, righteous bubba, was your implication that students in Master’s degree programs are somehow not graduate students. That is false, at least in the US.

Here’s some numbers I’ve found after a cursory web search:

University of Michigan: one-quarter of classes are taught by grad students or partly by grad students. The number for exclusively taught by grad students is only 7% in the highest case, lower-division courses. But the combo faculty/GSI category is going to catch a lot of courses that are pretty much taught by GSIs with basic faculty oversight. Schools have incentives to lower the number of GSI exclusive taught courses reported.

From the University of North Carolina’s Gazette (in a context where there’s an incentive to report the numbers of GSIs more highly):

“In any given year, about 1,000 of our graduate students are teaching assistants,” Dykstra said. “About 13 percent of all courses at Carolina are taught by graduate students, with 45 percent of the lower-level classes taught by graduate students. These are courses such as Mathematics 10, Psychology 10, English 11 and Biology 11. Obviously, TAs have an incredible impact on our undergraduates.”

Even Yale—which can be presumed to have among the very greatest resources to minimize GSIs—has grad students teaching about 7% of enrollment. In 1999, Yale’s Graduate Employee and Student Organization claimed that 40% of classroom instruction was performed by graduate students. The university disagreed, of course. But that a credible claim of 40% could be made at a school such as Yale, with its enormous endowment, indicates that the claim that few classes are taught by grad students is very dubious.

This Department of Education page has some good information, including a chart for 1992 showing that only 86% of all faculty in the US taught at least one course to undergraduates. Of course that doesn’t mean that 14% represents classes taught by GSIs, the numbers can’t be understood that way. But it’s suggestive, especially when you look at the 4-year doctoral granting institutions, where the percentage is only 67%.

Looking at the chart near the bottom of the page that shows hours per week teaching is more revealing. Here we see that non-doctoral and doctoral granting schools have the average instructor who teaches at least one undergraduate class teaching between 7 and 11 hours per week. If we compare that to the hours per week taught by faculty at 2-year schools (among instructors who taught at least one undergraduate class), we see the amount is 16. Suggesting that somewhere between a third and a half of all classroom hours in these 4-year schools are taught by GSIs. That’s a guesstimate, we can’t know from only this data. In any case, it’s a far cry from what’s implied in “most schools don’t even have graduate students”.

105

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 2:39 am

“Apparently reading comprehension and basic logic are not required for a degree in Ptolemy Studies. Pulling numbers out of your ass, however, is a key prerequisite.”

Oh, come on. I feel like I’m reading comments at Yahoo! or somewhere similar. “Reading comprehension and basic logic”? God, anyone who complains about someone not understanding “basic logic” on a web message board (outside the context of, say, logic) is, in my book, immediately identifiable as the same type of wanker who likes to call people “pseudo-intellectuals”.

As for reading comprehension, the only error in reading comprehension I’m seeing is Michael’s where he concludes that “my friends in the sciences” is equivalent to “academics I’ve known”.

Anyway, as it happens, working through Ptolemy’s Almagest does require both reading comprehension and, yes, basic logic in the form of geometric proofs and such. Just for the record.

106

tyrone slothrop 03.08.08 at 2:54 am

Dear Keith M. Ellis,

Regardless of reading comprehension and all that, I’m still waiting for the actual evidence behind your claim:

“when almost all undergraduate classes in US universities are taught by grad students”

Until you provide actual, you know, empirical evidence for this claim, it will continue to be nothing more than a mere assertion. Which, in this case, appears to be a rather worthless assertion.

Though I am curious why you have not provided that evidence already? I would have thought that you would have thoroughly checked the matter out before you made your mere assertion. But then, that is what I would have done, and I should not confuse my desire to make informed comments with your desire to make mere assertions.

I look forward to seeing the evidence behind your mere assertion. Thanks.

107

mathpants 03.08.08 at 3:06 am

would it be rude of this particular grad student to point out that he

a) greatly enjoys teaching

b) is apparently really pretty fucking good at teaching (as measured by student performance on block finals versus those taught by senior fancy-pants faculty)

c) just got a job (hey, at Penn State! Hi Michael!) based pretty much entirely on his teaching

d) has many grad student teaching colleagues, all of them really quite fine teachers, with whom he enjoys discussing matters relating to teaching.

e) wonders why the existence of his kind is being used as an ideological club by some wanker on the internets.

Seriously, Mr. Ellis, would it be unprofessional of me to request that you fuck off?

108

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 3:27 am

“Seriously, Mr. Ellis, would it be unprofessional of me to request that you fuck off?”

Yes.

Look: I didn’t claim there were no academics who like teaching. I’m thrilled that you do. I can’t alter what other academics have told me, and I’ve heard a lot of complaints about teaching. I wish there were more like you and your colleagues.

“Though I am curious why you have not provided that evidence already?”

I have a comment that’s awaiting moderation. Don’t know when it will appear. I wrote it almost two hours ago, I think.

109

joseph duemer 03.08.08 at 3:38 am

It is remarkable how many people substitute their fantasies about what happens in American colleges and universities for what actually happens. Some of these people, like Mark Bauerlein, actually work in higher ed & their statements are clearly pathological; others are just random people on the internet, some of whom apparently went to college, who make absurd assertions without any data other than vague anecdotes based on their own experience. And who then claim, like some of my freshmen, that their work was eaten by the dog computer.

110

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 3:39 am

Oh, to be clear: the data that I’ve found (and will eventually show up in the comment awaiting approval) make it clear that I’m wrong in claiming that most undergraduate classes are taught by GSIs. I don’t mean to contest another assertion so as to draw attention away from my own.

On the other hand, I think the data indicates that “a large portion of undergraduate classes are taught by GSIs” is a defensible statement. And that “even though they [graduate students] don’t even exist at most liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities” is certainly false.

111

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 3:41 am

“And who then claim, like some of my freshmen, that their work was eaten by the dog computer.”

That does deserve a “fuck you”. But I’ll retract it as soon as you see my comment appear that’s dated at “March 8th, 2008 at 2:39 am” and apologize.

112

tyrone slothrop 03.08.08 at 3:45 am

Dear Keith M. Ellis,

If the “data”, as you suggest, “make it clear” that you are “wrong” about “most undergraduate classes” being taught by graduate students, then, that begs the obvious question: Why would you make an uninformed assertion without first looking at the data? That seems like rather sloppy scholarship.

Again, however, I await the presentation of the evidence for your claims.

113

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 3:55 am

“Why would you make an uninformed assertion without first looking at the data? That seems like rather sloppy scholarship.”

“Rather sloppy scholarship?” Really? Well, this is looking a lot like a Yahoo! comment section after all, isn’t it? I made an assertion based upon my own experience. People do that, you know, and it is not incumbent upon every commenter here to Google before they make every assertion. Adopting your haughty tone as if this were the norm is a nice example of bad-faith Internet argument. You write: “But then, that is what I would have done”. Really? Are you sure you want to claim that you research every assertion you make on the web? Considering that you use a pseudonym, that’s an assertion about yourself that’s quite hard for anyone to check, isn’t it?

For a good-faith example, note my admission that I was wrong. For another example of bad-faith, note people who assume that I’m lying when I say a comment is awaiting moderation.

114

BarnicleBoy 03.08.08 at 4:03 am

As long as there’s all this data being provided, how about some to back up the assertion that a majority of faculty “perversely resent” teaching. Since almost all now is about 25% or so, is 15% a majority? On second thought, don’t bother. Your purpose and methods are now clear.

115

joseph duemer 03.08.08 at 4:08 am

Mr. Ellis: I don’t think I’ll have any need to apologize. As a long-time teacher, I’m entitled to be skeptical of the sort of claims you’re making? It is curious, though, the way your posts keep showing up, except for the crucial one. Perhaps the dog computer did eat your post, which in any case, you now say does not support your original assertion. Your claim that posts to an internet discussion do not require the rigorous standards of an academic paper is certainly true; nevertheless, basic veracity might be expected, no? And this forum happens to be frequented by academics, who tend to get upset when even the most basic standards of argumentation are ignored. Indeed, it is you who are behaving as if you were posting to a Yahoo political forum. Do you know the derivation of the word “yahoo,” by the way? Because you are behaving like one.

116

Colin Danby 03.08.08 at 4:22 am

Looks like Keith’s post (106) with data finally made it through moderation. Let’s sort it out quickly and then I’ve had enough.

“All of the first eight columns, as categories, have graduate students.”

category definitions here. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind00/c4/c4s1.htm
The categories appear designed to distinguish between grad degree-granting institutions and liberal arts colleges; you are apparently unaware that the term “liberal arts college” generally *means* an institution dedicated to undergrad ed.

“about half of those students go to schools with graduate students. That’s right there, on its face, a contradiction to Michael’s claim that most schools don’t have graduate students.”
Nope, because some schools are big and some schools are small! And the smaller ones tend to be the liberal arts colleges and the bigger ones tend to be the research universities. Hence it is not only possible but obviously true that the proportion of students at schools with grad students is much larger than the proportion of institutions with grad students, vindicating Michael. I would think even a student of Ptolemy would grasp this mathematical nicety.

“University of Michigan: one-quarter of classes are taught by grad students or partly”

If we’re including courses with TAs — that is with *any* grad student contact, you’re switching definitions.

“But the combo faculty/GSI category is going to catch a lot of courses that are pretty much taught by GSIs with basic faculty oversight. “

You need more than assertion here. And the Dykstra material, in context, appears to refer to TAs and not instructors of record.

“the claim that few classes are taught by grad students is very dubious.”

Who made that claim? You’re the one who is slowly climbing down from “almost all.”

“non-doctoral and doctoral granting schools have the average instructor who teaches at least one undergraduate class teaching between 7 and 11 hours per week. If we compare that to the hours per week taught by faculty at 2-year schools (among instructors who taught at least one undergraduate class), we see the amount is 16. Suggesting that somewhere between a third and a half of all classroom hours in these 4-year schools are taught by GSIs.”

You can’t be that dumb. It’s a chart of different teaching loads. Teaching loads vary by more than a factor of two.

117

tyrone slothrop 03.08.08 at 4:33 am

Dear Keith M. Ellis,

So then it was a matter of rather sloppy scholarship on your part. Really. Pity that you did not devote enough time to researching your claims before you made them. But then, research actually can take time. Interesting that.

And yes, it appears you were wrong. Now what have you learned from that?

118

Michael Bérubé 03.08.08 at 6:18 am

Keith M. Ellis has now convinced me that he is completely right and is arguing in totally good faith about whatever he thinks is true. I admit that with respect to questions about graduate students and faculty workload, he has totally pwned me with his superior reading and logical thinking and argumentating skills. I am now feeling that twinge of embarrassment he referred to way back in comment 21, and it’s mighty uncomfortable, let me tell you.

But I also believe Mr. Ellis is wasting his time arguing with those of you who do not understand hard data and rational logistical thought. I hope, therefore, that he will be inspired by this thread to submit his statistical analysis of the academic workplace to the Washington Post “Outlook” section, where it will no doubt find a sympathetic ear.

119

Marichiweu 03.08.08 at 6:50 am

very few graduate students are going to approach you and ask you to direct their dissertations on how It’s All a Load of Nonsense Anyway.

Tangential to the argument, maybe, but I think these dissertations and students actually make up a good-sized chunk of middle-of-the-road academia. I know about half of my grad school cohort were writing exactly that diss, and chose professors with precisely that interest. Never underestimate mediocrity and its projected resentments.

120

Marichiweu 03.08.08 at 6:53 am

Oh, and as a grad student, I totally worked 60+ a week every week. I don’t see that stopping as I begin a tenure-track job. I wouldn’t have it any other way for lots of reasons, but there have certainly been times when I’d have happily thrown it all away for 40 a week of moderate physical labor.

121

Keith M Ellis 03.08.08 at 1:55 pm

“But I also believe Mr. Ellis is wasting his time arguing with those of you who do not understand hard data and rational logistical thought.”

Really. At this point, I’m the only person who’s provided any data at all and I’ve admitted that one of my claims was wrong—though the opposite counter-claim was equally exaggerated and I’ve continued to contest that. Meanwhile, there’s this sort of comment by you, full of snark, as well as those like Mr. Duemer who really is quite sure that I’m making up my “dog ate my homework” excuse. One wonders if he’ll reassert that claim, even now.

Who is arguing in bad-faith? It’s not me.

“you are apparently unaware that the term ‘liberal arts college’ generally means an institution dedicated to undergrad ed.”

Really? So you think I’m going to have trouble finding “liberal arts colleges” that offer graduate degrees? Should I take on that exercise, or should you? Oh, hell, I have to or I’ll be accused of something. Here goes:

The first Google result for “Liberal Arts Colleges” produces the US News list, which is as good a place to start as any. It doesn’t look good for you, though, as the article begins with “The nation’s 266 liberal arts colleges emphasize undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the arts and sciences”. Do I need to link to a dictionary definitions of “exclusively” and “emphasize” to achieve the “scholarship” required by some?

Now, let’s look at the top ten “liberal arts colleges”:

01. Williams College (MA) — Offers Graduate Degrees
02. Amherst College (MA) — Offers Graduate Degrees
03. Swarthmore College(PA) — Offers Graduate Degrees
04. Wellesley College(MA) — No Graduate Degrees
05. Carleton College(MN) — No Graduate Degrees
05. Middlebury College(VT) — Offers Graduate Degrees
07. Pomona College(CA) — No Graduate Degrees
07. Bowdoin College(ME) — No Graduate Degrees
09. Davidson College(NC) — No Graduate Degrees
10. Haverford College(PA) — No Graduate Degrees
11. Claremont McKenna College(CA) — No Graduate Degrees
11. Wesleyan University(CT) — Offers Graduate Degrees
11. Grinnell College(IA) — No Graduate Degrees
11. Vassar College(NY) — Offers Graduate Degrees
15. Harvey Mudd College(CA) — No Graduate Degrees
15. Washington and Lee University(VA) — Offers Graduate Degrees
17. Smith College(MA) — Offers Graduate Degrees
17. Hamilton College(NY) — No Graduate Degrees
17. Colgate University(NY) — Offers Graduate Degrees
20. United States Naval Academy(MD) — No Graduate Degrees

So far, that’s 40%. Not looking too good for the claim that liberal arts schools are schools which don’t offer graduate degrees. I happen to have been aware of that as my alma mater, a top-tier liberal arts college, also offers graduate degrees.

“If we’re including courses with TAs—that is with any grad student contact, you’re switching definitions.”

…which was your response to my quote:

“University of Michigan: one-quarter of classes are taught by grad students or partly”

That’s implicitly switching definitions to your preferred extreme, isn’t it?

“Who made that claim? You’re the one who is slowly climbing down from ‘almost all.’”

I already completely climbed down from “almost all”, and did so quite explicitly. But Berube made that claim when he wrote:

“Not to slight the Just Making Shit Up Club, in which people say that graduate students do all (or maybe just half) of the undergraduate teaching in the United States—even though they don’t even exist at most liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities…”

…which implicitly asserts a counter-claim of significantly less than half and, given his claim that most schools don’t even offer graduate degrees, is obviously understood as being “very few”.

“You can’t be that dumb. It’s a chart of different teaching loads. Teaching loads vary by more than a factor of two.”

It’s a chart of average teaching loads for all schools, comparing four-year to two-year. If average teaching loads for two-year instructors who teach at least one undergraduate class are quite a bit higher than the average teaching loads for four-year instructors who teach at least one undergraduate class, what does that imply? By your own assertion, you’re a smart guy and I’m dumb, so I feel sure you can figure this out. By the way, I qualified that conclusion with “that’s a guesstimate, we can’t know from only this data”.

All this bad-faith, insults, and whatnot thrown my way because I had the temerity to assert that graduate students do a large portion of the teaching of undergraduate students in the US, something that everyone already knows is true. Was I wrong in claiming that it was “almost all”? Yes, I was. I admitted that, I’m admitting it again. But Berube has made, at least implicitly, just as an extreme counter-claim and others here are making fun of me for not knowing that liberal arts college don’t offer graduate degrees, even thought they do, at least in this universe. Not to mention that liberal arts colleges account for only a very small portion of all four-year undergraduate enrollment and it’s really beside the point. People have claimed that “comprehensive universities”, also, don’t offer graduate degrees. Which isn’t true, either. And they pointed to a chart which is completely useless for answering this question, even if liberal arts schools and comprehensive universities didn’t offer graduate degrees.

Berube equated “most people I’ve known” with “friends of mine, most of whom were in the sciences”, either very bad-faith or just sloppy reasoning. Then his most recent post is an exercise in snark that was both completely uncalled for and entirely unproductive.

I’d have thought that CT was better than this. But I guess it proves that given someone taking an unpopular position, along with implicit administrative sanction for and example of tossing off snarky bullshit, CT will descend into a ugly little pile-on filled with more rhetorical nastiness than good-faith argument.

At any rate, this is wrestling with pigs territory. I’ve made my case clear and answered increasingly piddling complaints with data and argument. I’m done. If it makes anyone feel better about themselves to lob off a parting shot, feel free. It’s cheaper than therapy, I suppose.

122

BarnicleBoy 03.08.08 at 2:16 pm

Considering that his opening comment (#18) was to tell the post’s author to shut the fuck up, it’s pretty funny to see Keith complain about rehtorical nastiness.

123

Righteous Bubba 03.08.08 at 2:44 pm

At this point, I’m the only person who’s provided any data at all

Hmm. That’s actually a lie.

124

george 03.08.08 at 4:03 pm

You know, I don’t really blog that much any more. Now I remember why.

Anyone getting deja vu?

125

jj 03.08.08 at 4:07 pm

Sorry, Keith, but I’m with Mike on this one. If academics are the secular clerics of the postmodern state, then grad school is necessarily the novitiate of the postmodern monastery. Someone’s got to muck out the stables, and the Abbot’s usually otherwise engaged in lively debates with his clerical subordinates concerning the merits of Faith versus Good Works, and Grace, and all that other Good Shit.

126

joseph duemer 03.08.08 at 6:19 pm

So, Kieth, the dog didn’t eat your homework, but when you brought it in, it didn’t really meet the requirements of the assignment. I think what pissed a lot of people off is that you made a wild-assed assertion in an attempt to smear academics. You began in bad faith. The charge was something like “most faculty disdain teaching” or something. A number of people pointed out that A. This was not necessarily so and that B. your original claim about the number undergrads taught by grad students was bogus. So you then revised B. But let’s consider what you were implying by the claim. You were suggesting, I* think, in the context of the post and the comments, that faculty were lazy sods who were selling out undergraduate education by palming off teaching duties on grad students. You were basically alleging a kind of moral corruption. Some folks got steamed at your presumption and rightly so. People do that when you insult their work.

By the way, the technical detail & data on which you are now basing your claim about grad students teaching undergrads is not nearly fine-grained enough: The fact that Liberal Arts Colleges offer grad degrees does not establish that “a lot” of the teaching there is done by grad students. Since you began with a personal anecdote, I’ll end with one: I teach at a liberal arts / technical university that offers some graduate degrees, but the vast majority of teaching is done by regular faculty to undergraduates. Sometimes those undergraduates go to lectures by faculty and to smaller recitation sections headed by grad students. And grad students do sometimes teach undergrads, under the supervision of a faculty member. You got a problem with that?

The larger point remains: Your original post was a smear job.

127

Michael Bérubé 03.08.08 at 8:51 pm

You know, for all the snark and such, I really am an extraordinarily patient person. I just need a few hours off between vexations to recharge my patience batteries. And so, having been vexed by the Inside Higher Ed quality of Mr. Ellis’s comments in this thread (you know the IHE comment style – “I’m Very ANGRY about SOMETHING in higher education that I completely don’t understand but am willing to write about at great length on the Internets! I defeat you with Logic! Win! ! 1 ! 1 !”), I’ve taken a deep breath and returned to explain something about why scientists and humanists at major research universities might have different attitudes toward teaching.

At Illinois, where I taught for twelve years, researchers in the sciences usually had teaching loads of 1/1; in the life sciences, it could go as low as one course per year. Scientists were explicitly researchers, and everything depended on their ability to secure grants (private or federal)– their working conditions, their graduate assistants, their chances for tenure and promotion. From the moment they set foot on campus– or, perhaps, from the moment they embark on doctoral work– they are encouraged to see themselves as grant-writing and grant-winning machines, because that’s the only way they’re going to get their research done. So yes, they tend to resent anything that distracts them from that process– and it can be, for some scientists, a year-round process– such as teaching the basics of biochemistry to a bunch of 20-year-olds.

Humanists, by contrast, have no such funding structure and no such expectations. Sure, if we’re lucky enough to teach someplace that awards released time, every once in a while we get a semester off to do research in France and come alive in archives. But we don’t have to spend our days chasing multimillion-dollar grants to keep our labs running and our graduate students employed, and consequently, we don’t see undergraduate teaching as a distraction. Quite the contrary, many of us think it’s the best thing about the job.

Now, it’s true that at a tiny handful of elite research universities (did I stress the “tiny handful” part?), even professors in the humanities can devote themselves primary or exclusively to graduate education. That’s why, in the literature on American academe, people who are familiar only with Harvard or Yale complain about the amount of undergraduate instruction done by graduate students. But having worked now at two large public research universities outside that charmed circle (three, including my four years as a graduate student at Virginia), I can assure all interested parties that nearly all humanists at places like Penn State and Illinois teach undergraduates and do so with enthusiasm. How much enthusiasm, I imagine, depends partly on the undergraduates themselves.

Last but not least: I shouldn’t have said that graduate students don’t exist at liberal arts colleges and comprehensives. I meant that they generally aren’t employed as teachers in such institutions, since we were talking about teaching done by graduate students. My mistake! But I want extra extra bonus points for anticipating Mr. Ellis’s final paragraph @ 124 with my own final paragraph @ 120.

128

Badger 03.08.08 at 10:59 pm

…these our actors, as I foretold you,
Were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision…
leave not a rack behind

129

jj 03.08.08 at 11:49 pm

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this–and all is mended–
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.

130

jj 03.08.08 at 11:50 pm

oops

131

Badger 03.09.08 at 12:53 am

cute

132

jj 03.09.08 at 3:16 am

And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.

133

Josh in Philly 03.09.08 at 4:57 pm

Gotta say, when I first read the Bauerlein excerpts, I wondered when Miriam Burstein was gonna show up to burst the “teaching load” bubble; and fortunately, she did, back at #36. But (with no disrespect intended toward Michael, who’s spent more energy than most disputing this point when Horowitz himself makes it), I think there needs to be more flogging of Bauerlein’s “Maybe in some segments”, which dismisses, like, the vast majority of institutions in four words. We’re not all at Emory or even R1 public schools here; and a seventy-hour work week was not unusual at the “teaching institution” where I went to college. Moreover, much of the “service” work at most schools –and all of it at many– goes not to perpetuating the bureaucratic structure that values research but to perpetuating its educational mission.

P.S. The “love” and “amateurism” argument that Dan Simon sees in Bauerlein has recently been addressed to good effect by Marc Bousquet.

134

Dave Maier 03.09.08 at 6:21 pm

I wonder how much what we have here is just a version of Conjugation: I produce solid, even sparkling, nay revolutionary scholarship which goes unappreciated due to the sad state of the contemporary humanities; you seem to have gotten sidetracked in what has turned out to be merely yesterday’s trendy theoretical bandwagon; he simply churns out pointless crap like a hamster on the wheel.

Actually, I have Bauerlein’s book on pragmatism, which does look interesting. Maybe I’ll get to read it someday, when I’m not trying to churn out pointless crap.

135

Dan S. 03.09.08 at 7:40 pm

11. Vassar College(NY)—Offers Graduate Degrees

Hmm. It’s possible that they’ve beefed up their grad-programs offerings since I was a student there in the mid-late 90s, but at that time “Offers Graduate Degrees” meant that very occasionally someone got a – I think it was chemistry – master’s degree. Afaik most students weren’t aware that there was any sort of graduate program, and had not encountered any graduate students at all, much less ones teaching courses, since those were taught by actual faculty (one partial exception – there was an African Art seminar taught by someone who, iirc, was just about to get his Ph.D. from NYU. Rather good class.)

-Uses the wonder of the intertubes to confirm – well, this undated peterson’s page points out that
[Graduate] Programs Offered:
Offers chemistry (MA, MS).

Meanwhile, Wikipedia claims that “All classes are taught by members of the faculty, and there are almost no graduate students and no teachers’ assistants.

I don’t know if the other high-ranking liberal arts colleges tend to share this general model or not.

136

Boo! 03.09.08 at 9:26 pm

Since it seems that Mr. Ellis has, by loud-mouthed association, single-handedly trashed the reputation of Ptolemy, can I sue him if my book fails to sell next year?

To make matters worse, I’m also from Albuquerque, so I feel like my home-town and my research have been implicated in idiocy, all in one fell swoop!

Oimoi talas!

– Boo!
(who went to a liberal arts college so she would never be taught by graduate students. That was the frickin’ point!)

137

JP Stormcrow 03.09.08 at 9:47 pm

Best tag lossage ever

138

Dan S. 03.10.08 at 12:01 am

Yeah, I dunno what happened there – it looked ok in preview. Apparently my comment revolted against the inclusion of wildly unreliable sources?

139

Timothy Burke 03.10.08 at 10:59 am

124:

Keith, Swarthmore does not offer graduate degrees. If you got that from US News, they’re wrong. In any event, wherever you got it, you’re wrong on this point. I don’t think Williams does either, but I’m only absolutely certain about Swarthmore. We confer nothing besides the BA and the BS (for Engineering students). No graduate degrees.

140

Timothy Burke 03.10.08 at 11:06 am

Just to separate out the general point, though: none of the liberal arts schools on that list have a sizeable number of graduate students, and at none of them do graduate students do any of the teaching, except under highly unusual circumstances. Wesleyan, for example, has a tiny graduate program in ethnomusicology and a smattering of the sciences. As far as the undergraduates are concerned, these graduate students scarcely exist, and they don’t particularly draw a lot of the time or energies of the faculty.

My teaching load is 2/3, though I typically also teach several independent studies or directed readings in a year on top of that.

Basically, you’re hiding from the main point people were raising: a liberal arts college is devoted to teaching. Not to graduate students, and though research is expected, teaching drives the enterprise. If any have graduate programs, their graduate programs are tiny and do not change this basic profile.

141

Bill Benzon 03.11.08 at 12:36 am

I’ve been thinking about the distinction that Bauerlein seems to be making between research in the humanities and research in the sciences. He seems to think that most humanities research is optional and, in addition, intellectually worthless. Not only that, but it’s not read by anyone. By contrast, he implies the research in the sciences is routinely more valuable – though he doesn’t say anything about who reads it (at least, not that I remember) – I’m thinking of the second passage Michael quote, the one with an aside about summer work.

On that score, the last time I looked at research on how often the typical scholarly article was read, the number was something like 3 to 5 times, and it applied to the sciences as well as the humanities. (Alas, I cannot provide a citation. I will note, however, that this was over two decades ago. I have no idea whether or not things have changed since then.) That’s not exactly an indication of overwhelming intellectual significance for typical science research.

As far as I can tell, most university research is a crap-shoot, regardless of discipline. The problem, however, is that there’s no a priori way to determine the value of a given research project. So we’ve got to fund/tolerate a lot of crap in order to get the good stuff. Sciences and humanities alike.

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