Thursday, April 28, 2016

Jesuit U Professor Against Gay Marriage = Termination

By Professor Doom

     Last time around I discussed a tenured professor who may have, a little bit, violated protocol by naming someone in a blog post that could be interpreted as against gay marriage.

Me: “I see here we’re putting in writing that 12 divided by 5 is 2.35. It’s actually 2.4.”
Admin: “It’s policy.”

--I really can’t emphasize strongly enough how difficult it is to argue with administrators…

     For what it’s worth, I don’t understand why government is even involved in marriage at all, but faculty opinions, from basic mathematical calculations to controversial topics, are irrelevant nowadays. We must all adhere to whatever administration thinks, even if they’re objectively wrong. Seeing as administrative beliefs blow with the wind, this can sometimes lead to painful cognitive disconnects…or accidental faux pas by faculty that didn’t get the memo on the latest strange idea.

      Anyway, the professor may have made a mistake, admin wanted his head, and after months of browbeating and threatening of faculty, nearly got it: after a year suspension without pay, the professor has to also apologize if he wants his (tenured) job back.

      He won’t be apologizing, and wisely couches it all as a free speech issue:

      Please understand this whole thing could have been resolved with a memo asking him not to name names (particularly students, who really should be given some slack for doing foolish things) in his blog. That’s how faculty would do it.

     There’s been a huge administrative takeover of higher education, however, and most of these places are now run by mercenaries (at best, and that’s a low “best”) or lunatics. Even the religious universities are hard pressed to keep the plunderers and lunatics out:

“As for so-called Catholic universities, first you have to understand that Jesuits are thin on the ground these days,” McAdams continued.  “The president of Marquette’s not a Jesuit, the provost isn’t, the dean of arts and sciences isn’t… there are so few Jesuits that so-called Jesuit institutions pretty much aren’t run by Jesuits.”

     Thus it is that a professor got in trouble for posting something that could be interpreted as against gay marriage. He thought he was at a Catholic university, and thus thought he was supposed to follow Catholic ideals (I’m not saying these ideals are right or wrong, mind you…but a religion that doesn’t follow its beliefs is not much of a religion).

      I’ll let the professor sum up the post in question, which is fair enough:

“I didn’t actually even defend traditional marriage,” McAdams said.  “Simply the right of a student to defend traditional marriage without being bullied and demeaned.  That was the whole point about my blog post.”  In that post, McAdams described the case of a student who was told to drop a class by an angry leftist professor, who exclaimed that defending marriage between men and women was intolerably “homophobic, racist, and sexist.”

     I can’t emphasize strongly enough how insane many of our institutions of higher education are nowadays. A professor thinks that defending the institution of marriage is “homophobic, racist, and sexist”…I’m not saying marriage is perfect (particularly in today’s legal system), but pretty much every culture on the planet developed “traditional” marriage…maybe universities should be open to discussion about the merit of it, at least?

Student in my class: “Excuse me professor, but I believe you’re wrong in that calculation.”

Me: “Get out of my class!”

---This has never happened. To clarify, I’ve had students correct my errors on the board many times…but I don’t have a problem with that at all. Shouldn’t all disciplines which pursue knowledge be open to challenge?

     And so, about the apology:

“… also said he would be required to “promise to adhere to Marquette’s guiding values and mission statement… which of course, in my view, I’ve done.”

Unfortunately, McAdams noted the bureaucrats at Marquette seem to interpret their mission statement not as a high-minded commitment to academic inquiry and free expression, but simply as, “you don’t make trouble for the institution.”

     Again, this is nothing new. All our institutions of higher education have lofty mission statements about education, service, and the like. Most (all?) of our institutions regularly ignore those statements, ignore the promises they make in writing to accreditation to adhere to those statements, and do whatever they want.

      I defy any gentle reader to find a single university’s mission statement to say something like “create a winning sportsball team”…and yet there are many institutions that devote more campus space to athletics than academics.

      I defy any gentle reader to find a single community college’s mission statement to say something like “offer a wide range of 6th to 9th grade material,” and yet every community college I’ve looked at offers such, to the point that 90% or more of the coursework on campus is pre-college level, and finding legitimate second year coursework on a 2 year campus is basically impossible.

      I could continue, but, yeah, professor, trying to adhere to principles is a bad idea in higher education. I’ve seen professor after professor punished for having principles, and not once have I seen a professor rewarded by an institution for having principles.

     Any professor who thinks he’ll be rewarded for honoring a school’s mission statement is in for a huge surprise.

 “I’m not going to sign any ‘loyalty oath’ to Marquette’s mission – since I’m, in fact, probably a stronger proponent of Marquette’s claimed mission than the people running the university,” he chuckled.  “But I’m against loyalty oaths. Interestingly, a lot of older liberals remember loyalty oaths in the 1950s, where professors were required to swear they were loyal to America and had no sympathy for Communism… liberals hated that.  And now what you have is a liberal administration at Marquette demanding a loyalty oath from me.”

      I’ve written of these loyalty oaths before, and, yes, you can be fired for refusing to swear fealty to the plundering psychopaths that run so many of our institutions.

      So often I’m reminded of the writings of Orwell when I write about the madness of higher education. Usually I think of 1984, but the professor above is referencing Animal Farm—the new, “good,” group that moves in does seem to have a habit of performing the same foul behaviors of the “evil” group that was overthrown.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tenured Faculty Suspended For Blog Post

By Professor Doom

     Every few months I get some joker giving me grief for posting under a pseudonym; I’d reconsider, but every few weeks I get a reminder of how fragile the position of an educator in higher education is today.

      Some faculty bloggers do use their own names; I commend them. They often get smackdown, however:

“…dispute over his job involves comments that relate to the role of faculty members, the rights of students and same-sex marriage...”

    Allow me to add a little detail to the above: a conservative faculty blogger did something wrong: he mentioned by name the antics of a student/liberal professor regarding a hot-button issue: gay marriage. This happened at a Catholic/Jesuit university, Marquette, and the tenured blogger was against gay marriage, so you’d think he’d probably be cut some slack for his faux pas.

      No way. Admin wanted him fired for his mistake.

     Now, faculty aren’t perfect, they make mistakes. When there’s an accusation like this, there’s supposed to be a due process. I’ve seen admin deny due process enough times to know only a fool would count on due process for fairness.

      So, first thing admin does is assemble a committee; I’ve been on a few of these. Mostly, we’re told what admin wants, and we do that…or else. I’ve seen admin actually threaten faculty at my community college…there’s no real defense against this, trust me, I’ve tried.

     Anyway, Marquette is an old school, established late in the 19th century, so it still has some integrity to the procedures. So, admin picks as loaded a committee as possible, and puts the screws to them:

          “…seven of Professor McAdams’ peers conducted a hearing over a period of four days last September. The committee consisted of a diverse set of tenured faculty members from different academic disciplines. After months of deliberations, the committee issued a thorough 123-page report to my office…”

     Four days of hearings! Months of deliberations! A hundred and twenty three page report…over some blog posts. You better believe the committee was being browbeaten, and kudos to them for holding on to their integrity.

      I’ve been on committees to address a faculty member repeatedly and openly trying to copulate with students (with his MySpace page being pretty good evidence…hope I didn’t date when this happened). We didn’t take 4 months to decide what to do, admin wanted to keep him (and did, since he was cheap and had good retention. We seriously need to re-evaluate what makes a good teacher in higher ed nowadays…). Another committee dealt with a faculty convicted of lascivious acts in a men’s restroom and likewise had some, shall we say, youth-related predilections; even though the school had many underage students (from joint programs with the high schools), the committee was forced to recommend keeping him (again, the “teacher” had great retention, all students always got an “A” no matter what…seriously, we need to change the rules for what makes a good teacher).

     I was the holdout one time. It was a (fake) hiring committee, and we were given no choice but to recommend a clueless, terrible, spineless, inexperienced choice for deanling, but favored by our patriarchal Megaprovost. We also had an applicant who knew what the word “integrity” meant, with years of experience, but the whole process was farce and so we could not choose her, though the committee unanimously agreed she was the best choice. I tried to move towards integrity, but there was nothing I could do, the spineless sycophants outvoted me, I was browbeaten until the vote was “unanimous” and so the awful choice was hired (I paid for that brief bit of spine-showing dearly, I promise you).

     Committees are pretty motivated to make their decisions in a few hours at most.
      Bottom line: we’re human beings. We don’t want 4 days of meetings, months of deliberations and 123 page reports to come to a decision. It’s very obvious admin wanted faculty to recommend firing, and it’s very obvious this old school’s procedures had allowed faculty to have some integrity. All admin could do was refuse to dissolve the committee until they gave the ruling admin wanted…hence months of threats “deliberation.”

     Meanwhile, this tenured faculty was suspended without pay during the proceedings…what kind of protection does tenure grant if you can be suspended without pay for months just for being accused?

      Anyway, the kangaroo committee was not so kangaroo after all, and resisted for four months before finally giving in somewhat: no firing, but suspension for another year without pay.  Since that wasn’t enough, admin just went ahead and did what they always do:

“…report provided a unanimous recommendation on a path forward regarding the issue under consideration…”

       First, they lied. I promise you, you don’t have 4 months of deliberations if there’s unanimity in the committee (all the committees I was on were “unanimous” too, regardless of committee votes…”unanimous” means whatever admin wants it to mean). It took 4 months of browbeating for the committee to at least allow a suspension.

      Then admin lied some more, saying the committee also recommended:

Marquette told McAdams that [he] must admit to his "guilt" within two weeks or he will not get his job back after the suspension.

    Hmm, once again, Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind, a public apology for wrongthink? Not a likely recommendation from the committee:

“…the punishment imposed on McAdams was the recommendation of a faculty panel, the lawyer for McAdams said that the faculty panel never recommended a required apology. (A spokesman for Marquette declined to answer questions on whether the apology was in fact imposed by President Michael Lovell and was not based on a faculty panel's report.)…”

     Admin is lying, again. The gentle reader needs to understand these aren’t kids arguing over a foul on the playground basketball court…it’s all done in writing. If the committee’s recommendation for an apology really was given, it was given in writing, and the spokesman could just produce that recommendation and be done with it.

      Much like with Germany needing to wait 7 years to get its gold back from the Fed, a thinking person can easily deduce someone is lying, and who.

      I keep coming back to the question: what’s tenure worth if a “bad” blog post can lead to a couple years’ suspension without pay?

      The comments section, of course, sides with the faculty over the kangaroo court ruling (the commenters don’t have admin browbeating them). One comment does seem to sum things up:

Shocked I am. Shocked beyond description. I knew nothing of this story before I accessed this link. Yet somehow I knew with metaphysical certainty that the Professor with the reticle on his forehead would turn out to be a political Conservative. How could I have known this? I must be psychic.

      I’ve written before of the everyday harassment and bias conservative faculty face, and how they’re a tiny minority on campus. It’s just one more open secret on campus today. Another comment gives the reality:

A “conservative” professor being judged fairly by a panel of his peers..........not possible.

     Again, trying to get 7 conservative faculty to judge this guy would be tough even at a school with a thousand faculty…and still what admin wanted to do was so outrageous that even the liberal faculty thought it was overboard.

     A conservative faculty at a Catholic school posts something that could be interpreted as against gay marriage, and the admin there want his head on a platter. This kind of lunacy is quite typical today, for those few faculty that dare to say anything at all. And there’s confusion over why so many of our campuses are asylums?

     Next time, we’ll hear from the tenured professor what he thinks about all this, and the likelihood that he’ll give an apology.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

MFA Pointless? Depends on who gets the checks.

     By Professor Doom

     It’s long been known that, for about half of college graduates, they are no different than high school students when it comes to cognitive skills, despite spending 6 years or so getting a college degree. This is simple fact.

      Many blame this on the higher education system, and I’m inclined to agree, although the complete sell-out of accreditation is a big factor in why so many schools are so loaded down with bogus/questionable coursework it’s quite possible for a student to spend years of “study” and gain nothing measurable.

     With college degrees increasingly worthless in the job market, people are using the degrees for their only remaining purpose: to gain admittance into graduate and professional schools. I’ve covered the law school scam, and University of Phoenix demonstrates the MBA scam, but today I want to look a little at the MFA, the Master of Fine Arts. It isn’t just that MFA programs are ripoffs, though that sort of thing is often the case, I want to talk about a problem that is similar to what we see in the college degrees: the graduate training doesn’t make any measureable difference, or at least a relevant one.

       The creative writing MFA, like the rest of higher education, has grown irresponsibly:

“…Creative writing has become a big business—it’s estimated that it currently contributes more than $200 million a year in revenue to universities in the U.S….”

      Now, if someone wants to study higher education as a means of happiness, I’m all for it…but the student loan scam pays for graduate school, even if the school isn’t really teaching anything, and charging a huge fortune for it. I’m against people taking out loans for happiness; the only justifiable reason to take out a loan is to get something that will help you pay back the loan.

      Anyway, we’ve been cranking out people highly trained in “creative writing,” fiction, for many years now, we should be seeing something, right?

      Well, some faculty decided to see if there was a measurable difference between the MFA-creative writers, and writers who decided just to write creatively, without having whatever magical training happens in creative writing MFA programs.
  • Write artfully, evoking emotions and expressing points of view

  • Critique literature with the eye of a writer and editor

  • Read in ways that creatively engage form and content in a variety of genres

  • Discover and address your own writing strengths and weaknesses

Foster your creativity in a positive atmosphere in which you’ll receive constructive feedback on your writing and learn to move beyond mechanical skills as you develop a more powerful voice.

---the promises of a typical program, all online. Note: you get your master’s degree in 10 weeks from this place. Fully accredited, of course. Someone entering this program has been writing for 15 years or more, so, yeah, a couple months more should be all it takes to become a master, sounds legit to me. Hey, anyone else remember those comic book ads? “Buy this book and become a Martial Arts Master in 2 weeks!!!” At least the comic books promised to make you a master for only 99 cents…

      The researchers put together some software capable of analyzing a novel. Granted, this analysis is only as good as the software, but the software is pretty good at some things:

    It even predicts bestsellers with 82% accuracy, or so the researchers say (man, sure hope publishers and literary agents don’t find out about this!).

     So how well does the software do when it comes to telling the difference between a “highly educated” author and some guy who just likes to write?

Computer was successful only about 67 percent of the time at guessing correctly. You don’t need a degree in statistics to know this isn’t very good—you can be right 50 percent of the time just by accident.

     I think these guys have an agenda. 67% accuracy is quite good, or at least much, much, better than guessing. 

     Allow me to slip into statistics here: making a guess from the methodology they describe in the linked article, this would indicate a p-value of around .00000000001. That’s better than many tests that try to relate smoking and cancer. This is not luck, their software clearly shows a measurable difference (not necessarily improvement!) between the two types of authors. If you can build software that can tell the difference, then, yeah, there’s a difference. But these guys say the opposite, as though they’re ignorant of statistics…I really wish statistics were a bigger part of education now, but many programs eliminate statistics from education (and most any other topic of any challenge), as it makes growth so much easier.

      Anyway, let’s look at the differences.

For example, MFA novels tend to focus more on lawns, lakes, counters, stomachs, and wrists. They prefer names like Ruth, Pete, Bobby, Charlotte, and Pearl (while non-MFA novels seem to like Anna, Tom, John, and Bill). But on the whole, these distinctions look pretty meaningless…

     Now, here I agree with the article, a slight emphasis on certain words and names seems to be a bit meagre considering the piles of student loan money involved.

As one brochure has it, the goal of the adjunct faculty of an MFA program is to “work closely with their students to help them develop their own voices, styles, and form.”

      Since the quoted article brings it up, allow me to mention those adjunct faculty in more detail. The student pays about $50,000 for this graduate school training. Of that money, a few hundred bucks goes to the adjuncts, and there are essentially no overhead expenses for writing courses beyond the adjunct’s pay. We’re talking a 98% or more profit margin here. I trust now the gentle reader understands why the Creative Writing MFA is such a growth industry…

     The software detects a few more differences of very minor interest:

MFA novels tend to use pairs of adjectives or adverbs less often, or avoid the more straightforward structure of a noun followed by a verb in the present tense. But other than that, there’s nothing detectably unique about the so-called “MFA style.”

--emphasis added.

     I have to admit, the researchers here have painted themselves into a corner. I mean, the whole point of creative writing is to create, create something new. You can’t honestly expect the 200 MFA novels they look at to be “unique”…that’s just not what the word means.

     That said, they do ask the question that keeps coming up for me:

As the University of Texas program says, “The best thing we do for fiction writers at the Michener Center for Writers is leave them alone.” But then why go?

     Unfortunately, the researchers, despite their agenda, seem to be incapable of correctly answering their question of “Why go?” The answer is pretty obvious, though the researchers miss it:

According to the latest research, only 7 percent of MFA graduates are fully funded, which means 93 percent are investing some portion of their own money to sound like everyone else.

     Wrong answer. These students aren’t investing “their own money,” they’re getting student loans. The whole reason all these stupid-expensive programs exist is because of the easy money of the student loan program. Without the student loans, there’d be far fewer programs available, and they’d be much cheaper. They’d probably be more useful, too, since people won’t spend so much of their own money on useless programs.

     I’m pro-education, mind you, but there’s just no need to pile this kind of money into creative writing. Honest, the way to learn writing is to write. While mostly you do that on your own, getting a private tutor would be more effective, cheaper for the student, and the tutor would make more money (time and again I’ve seen how much better education is for both student and teacher when the “accredited” school is removed from the process).

     Education is always touted as a way for “less advantaged” groups to get ahead.  For what it’s worth, I believe this is the case…but you can’t get ahead taking on a huge loan that never goes away. And, when it comes to writing, the education does no good at all:

The MFA promises to make the distinction of race come alive, take on literary heft, through learning how to write and the work of writing. But we have no evidence that MFA authors are any better at this than their less educated non-MFA peers. If there’s a quality that distinguishes a writer as Asian American or black, we could not find it.

        So when it comes to race representation in literature, MFA is failure. How about gender?

The percentage of male protagonists in novels written by MFA grads is well over half, at 61 percent, while that figure is 65 percent for non-MFA novels. Further, if a novel has a female lead, the chances that it has two strong female characters is only 32 percent for both MFA and non-MFA novels. Last, the percentage of novels that have a majority of male characters in the non-MFA group is 99 percent, whereas it is 96 percent for MFA novels. These are terrible numbers by any standard. They suggest that the contemporary American novel is disproportionately preoccupied with the experiences of men. And they suggest that the MFA novel is only barely better than its non-MFA counterparts.

So, we can’t justify all these programs on social justice concerns, and can’t justify them on any other terms. Thus, even if I think the authors had an agenda here, I do concede their conclusion:

$200 million per year, after all, is a high price to pay for very little measurable impact.

     Do these authors even know about the student loan scam, with student debt over 1.2 trillion bucks now? This money has had an incredible impact on the Poo Bahs of higher education, massively inflating their bank accounts, and creating huge overpaid bureaucracies as well. 

     Now, for MFA students? Yeah, there’s just no reason for it, or at least no reason to take out a loan for it.