Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Top College Economist: Marx

By Professor Doom

     Higher education is often referred to as the “ivory tower,” but a better metaphor would be a field of ivory towers. Every department is its own ivory tower. At the university level, I seldom so much as see someone from another department. While I might well know something of what goes on in my department, I just had no idea how bad things were elsewhere.

      I’d been told many times that our campuses were as much centers of indoctrination as education, but I remained skeptical, even after years of hearing such things. I saw nothing of the sort with my own eyes, after all…little realizing how isolated I was, or how math departments were relatively free of the indoctrination.

      I saw a few things with my own eyes, of course, though never enough to convince me.

“…in the upscale neighborhood was an ice cream store. One of the confections on sale was ice cream in the shape of a very large female breast, covered in a chocolate coating.

This shows how wealthy white people, even in the 20th century, still long for their huge black mammies of the slave-owning days.”

--paraphrased excerpt from a textbook used in a course on a community college campus. I feel the need to point out: this passage was not in the book as an example of ridiculous thinking for educated people to point at and laugh.

      When I was at a community college, I was exposed to the silliness of gender studies, but only because students handed out lollipops for a grade (and so I got lollipops, each with a little note indicating how great women are), or students carrying bags of sand to represent the burden of having a child…such things didn’t convince me of indoctrination as they did of the utter goofiness of that field, focusing on making students feel good instead of on actual knowledge. Occasionally a student would leave a textbook behind in a classroom, and I’d read a bit and be stunned at the gibberish. I was, like most anyone, embarrassed at what went on at the community college…but I still wasn’t convinced this was full on indoctrination.

     But now I’m looking up from my books, looking outside my department at the university level. I see our campuses often devolving into riots over the silliest things, see people terrified to say a word out of line. I also see people believing the most ridiculous things, beliefs that could only exist through the reinforcement of indoctrination.

      Allow me to present an example of the ivory tower I’ve lived in. In math departments, we change textbooks every three years. Even if we don’t change the books, every few years we look at our textbooks, look at what else is available, and decide if we’re still using the best books we can. Even though mathematical concepts are basically immortal, we still change the books, or at least consider changing them, on a regular basis.

      Ok, I’m showing my age with that previous paragraph. That’s how it was years ago. When I developed an online course in the 90s (I really was one of the first, and I’m sorry for it), I designed the course to account for a changing textbook. Nowadays, we keep our textbooks longer, because there’s often an associated online component the institution buys as well…it’s so much trouble and expense changing the books and the associated software that we rather stick with a bad book rather than even consider changing. The publishers are clever like that, not that I’m criticizing them.

      Anyway, in my ivory tower, I just assumed all the departments changed their books more or less regularly. While mathematics might be immortal, most other fields are forever changing and advancing—much of what Freud taught a century ago has been invalidated, for example, and other fields are often unrecognizable from what they taught a century ago. Even in literature, even if Shakespeare is studied, there are ever newer books explaining in ever better depth Shakespeare’s works.

     That’s how it’s supposed to work with knowledge: the best we know is forever evolving, forever finding better ways to explain what we know.

     Indoctrination is a different matter entirely: truth is whatever authority says it is, and is reinforced through mindless repetition. It can’t afford to change, because change can only come from asking questions, a big no-no for indoctrination.

     So what to make of this:

     As a philosophy that killed (and is killing) many millions of people (hi Venezuela, sorry you’re not in the news despite being a huge failure for communism…or is it because?), I totally agree that his ideas should be studied by specialists, but I see no need to make his book, well over a century old, a top mandatory read for everyone. It would be far better to have a textbook that dissects the Manifesto, slicing up each concept and discussing how each part led to disaster.

     This old book is freakishly popular:

The Communist Manifesto ranks first among texts assigned in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Washington State; second in New York, Iowa, and Virginia; third in Massachusetts and Minnesota; fourth in California and Connecticut; seventh in Illinois; eighth in Georgia; 22nd in Tennessee; and 72nd in Texas.

    Overall, it’s the third most popular book our students must read. The top two are Plato’s Republic (a good foundation for modern civilization, and Plato’s ideas haven’t caused millions of deaths) and The Elements of Style (another good foundation book, although I suspect it’s used more as reference than reading). 

     I’m saddened to see no math books in the top 100—who would have guessed that mathematics, the least subjective of all disciplines, would be so incapable of agreeing on a good book? In my ivory tower, I just assumed other disciplines likewise changed through books often, but back to the point.

     Why are we pushing this monster’s Marx’s ideas so hard in higher education? I concede it’s an important albeit disastrous political philosophy, but any consideration of Marxist utopian ideas (all his book could possibly contain) must be tempered with the grim murderous reality of the consequences of following those ideas (which can’t possibly be in that book).

      Krugman’s book on Economics is #85, which is still a bit too popular I think; maybe Keynesianism isn’t as lethal as communism, but I suspect that’s because we haven’t given it enough time. What economist is the most popular?

…Marx is the most assigned economist in college courses…

     Wait…what? This guy dominates economic as well as political thought? Seriously? Many communist nations suffered starvation, severe starvation, massive depopulation-style starvation, and extreme economic hardship, because a communist economic system is so generally terrible people cannot thrive under it, merely survive, and not all can even manage that. 

      Much like with the Diversity studies text I quoted above, I strongly suspect the Manifesto isn’t being studied as something to point at and laugh at how ridiculous it is in terms of economic theory.

       I guessed Marx to be popular in politics, and apparently he’s also a big man in economics. Just how dominant is Marx in higher education?

Among History texts, however, The Communist Manifesto ranks fourth, in the field of Sociology texts, it comes in third, and in Politics, it ranks eighth.

     So its best strength is in Sociology, the study of group behavior. Insofar as group madness is legitimately worth studying, I can see a book on communism being of some interest there, although it really seems like we’d have made some advances in the field over the last century.

      And so I consider the fact: these fields use the same book, for over a century, with no possibility that it can be improved upon, no concern for the empirical evidence, and a student must have Marx’s ideas repeated to him, verbatim, over and over again as he studies economics, history, sociology, politics, and who knows where else it appears.

    I have to concede that, yes, that sounds more like indoctrination than education. I am, however, grateful that in the ivory tower of mathematics, Marx has no relevance.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Starving Faculty Speak Out

By Professor Doom

     Throughout higher education, academics are realizing something is horribly wrong. We’ve seen the old campuses grow, and new campuses spring up, but we are told there just aren’t any permanent positions available. Faculty, if they want to be in higher education, are forced to be overworked at starvation wages, in the hope that someday all the education they’ve indebted themselves for will result in a “real” job.

      We see the new buildings being constructed, we see the parking lots filling up with university workers and students…but there still there are no new positions for teachers and researchers at the university.

      We know full well what’s happening:

      Look, this isn’t some weird conspiracy theory. Anyone that works in higher education can tell you what’s happening, anyone who looks at employment records can see it, and anyone who simply walks through campus can observe how much of the campus is for administration now.

     Every year when I was a community college, we had to close down one more classroom, and then watch construction crews come in to reconfigure the classrooms into administrative offices. We used to also have offices for faculty, but admin kicked them out, to make room for more administrative offices. Faculty then moved to cubicle warehouses (nothing like the d├ęcor of the admin offices, I promise you). Being up in the ranks, I’d have to go downtown for meetings…in huge Education buildings filled with more luxurious administrative offices. I had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss, who had a boss…at a school with less than a 1,000 students. The first boss made double what I did, then triple for the next. I don’t even want to guess the kind money the top was getting, but they all had the capacity to fire me at will, so I’m fair in calling them my boss.

“I would love to see instructor pay increase and to eliminate the exorbitant pay that many university presidents and administrators are receiving, but I just don’t see this happening.”

      It’s positively nuts how many administrators even a tiny institution can have, and utterly bonkers what they’re paid, for work that, even after years of trying to determine (kowtowing in a most humiliating way to get as close as I could), I never could glean. It was very clear at my previous school that admin firmly believed the whole point of the school was to support administration. Even tiny suggestions on my part not to screw over and hurt ignorant students was greeted with pure contempt…every dollar taken out of kid’s pocket was another dollar for admin, after all.

My experience has been crushing penury. A little-discussed financial issue is that I, nor any other adjunct, can afford the expense of multiple commutes to far-flung campuses.

Professors (on tenure track as well as tenured) where I’ve worked have all, to a person, been in support of adjunct salary increases. Faculty’s stripping of effective power to sit on budget committees (as well as other vital committees) has been, in my experience, the greatest source of anger among faculty.

     Faculty are impotent on campus today. The only reason we have tenured faculty is the rules for tenure date to a time when faculty and administrators were the same people. Administration has been hacking away at tenure, as well as every single form of job protection and respect, every year. 

     Now, I understand how the market works, but we’re told by admin over and over again with every new change in higher education, that the change is made “to help students.”

    So, admin tells us that turning all the teachers into adjuncts isn’t hurting the students at all. This is, of course, a lie:

First-year students are more likely to persist to their sophomore year when high-stakes "gate-keeper" courses are taught by permanent faculty, and campus unions generate significantly greater undergraduate experience of tenure-stream faculty, observe two studies just released at the annual convention of the American Education Research Association.

These studies confirm numerous other reports

     The studies referenced above are hardly news, and only reflect common sense. How can you possibly motivate a student to study and achieve academically when the professor, the master of the academic subject being taught, is treated like chattel? Instead of showing our incoming students one can succeed through study, great swaths of first year courses are taught by a cohort of minimally paid adjuncts, along with grad students who often move in the adjunct position soon after graduation. It’s obvious on the face of it that the students, the smarter ones at least, will realize staying in school is a horrid mistake.

     A few faculty members, realizing that the protections of tenure are all that keep them from starvation now, are trying to do something about this. Unfortunately, they’re trying to accomplish change through legislation. The campaign is called FACE, Faculty and College Excellence, but it’s getting roughly nowhere. Oh, the bills get written, and some versions get passed, but there’s a trend:

the protections for part-time faculty were, in fact, stripped from the bill.”

     You just can’t legislate morality, particularly in a system that is demonstrably run by the immoral…and these immoral often have close ties to the legislators (who themselves hardly have a stellar reputation in this regard).

     The bottom line is the adjunctification of higher education has far more to do with lining the pockets of the bloated administrative class than any other reason. Adjuncts, seeing reason and decency will not help them and will not help the students, have started taking things in their own hands:

In recent years faculty serving contingently have frequently chosen to form units of their own, where state law permits. This choice reflects the growth in full-time contingent appointments, as well as the reality of academic hierarchy and, especially, broader trends in collective bargaining.

--“where state law permits.” Hmm, asking government for permission to assemble…that’s the kind of thing that should be in the Constitu...oh, wait, nevermind.

      Unions’ tendency towards violence make me a reluctant advocate for them, but the Poo Bahs that run higher education are going to keep plundering it, exploiting the students and the workers, until there is no money left…or until they have no choice but to change their ways. Unions represent the last, best, hope, for decent treatment of academics in higher education, particularly the grotesquely mistreated adjunct professors.

     Will unions work, or will Joker Education scabs simply fill the gap when the adjuncts walk out in masse? I don’t know, but I do know the current system isn’t working for the students, and isn’t working for the scholars…considering these two groups form the entire legitimate existence of higher education, it’s clear things have to change soon.

      Assuming the adjunctification trend continues and the higher education bubble doesn’t simply pop, we will someday have campuses with no faculty, not even classrooms. Just endless anthills filled with administrators, and basements filled with computer servers…while off campus “coaches” do what little is needed for online coursework, before going back on the street to beg for food.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Educated Underclass Speaks Out

By Professor Doom

     Most people have this idealized view of a professor in higher education, thanks to Indiana Jones: few hours teaching worshipful students, good pay, and a generally cushy life with enough time off to go around the world looting tombs.

      The reality is far different. If Indiana Jones were a typical professor in today’s higher education, he’d be an adjunct, struggling to get by on around $20,000 a year, and spending more time driving from campus to campus than actually teaching students, students who will punish Jones if he hurts their feelings in any way. Instead of a valued scholar, Jones would be an expendable irrelevancy.

     The Guardian has a whole series on what’s happened to professors in higher education, and it presents some firsthand accounts from the educated underclass who does most of the actual work in higher education today. The Guardian doesn’t pass judgement or analyze these stories, and so I feel the need to elaborate on what’s being said in a few of the tales.

Those whose positions were unionized (or at least somewhat organized) uniformly reported better pay, though some also reported retaliation against them from institutions bitter that they unionized in the first place. All agreed, though, that when you broke it down to an hourly wage by how much work is actually required, adjunct pay is absurdly low.

     Due process is blatantly violated regularly in higher education today (I know this firsthand), there is no job protection for these teachers. Thus, there is a culture of fear on campus today, often degenerating into a culture of terror. Administrators have ridiculous power on campus, a power that is often used to make faculty miserable. I incurred some enmity when I suggested starting a union on campus…admin made it clear they would not respect any union.

“My quality of life is garbage. I share a two-bedroom apartment with three other people and I can’t afford to get a haircut. I’m on food stamps. My parents pay for gas for my car and for my health insurance, or I wouldn’t have any. People are incredulous when they find out that someone with a graduate degree in math lives like I do.”

      Yes, that’s right, even a graduate mathematics degree isn’t worth much. Surprised? You should be, since we hear every single day how we need more math teachers, more math in general, and there are endless programs to generate more math degrees.

      Of course, we hear this from administration. Administration hates spending money on education, and so is highly motivated to create as many “licensed” people as possible, to drive down the value of the degree so they can hire teachers very, very cheaply, even to the point of making highly questionable Education degrees count as “jokers” for all academic disciplines.

      Does that sound cynical? Please, gentle reader, understand that higher education administrators make 8 to 20 times as much as a typical adjunct, and faculty are a minority on campus today…it’s mostly administration now.

     So, it’s completely obvious that “higher education administrator” is a higher paying, in higher demand, job than “math teacher.” And yet, I openly defy anyone to find a “bold new initiative” to create more  “higher education administration degree” graduates, even as every campus has an initiative to increase the number of STEM and/or Education graduates.  Considering the administration degree, even at the Ph.D. level, is a complete joke (so it has high graduation/retention) what other explanation could there be for the excess of math programs, beyond cynicism? 

Many adjuncts say that they are forced to accept teaching gigs at several different far-flung campuses during the same semester, leading to long commutes and little time for anything else in life, just to try to scrape together a living.

     Isn’t it strange that the teacher at the bogus community college is, literally, the same teacher at $20,000 a year public university is, literally, the same teacher at the $40,000 a year private school? It’s true, each school can and will hire the same adjunct for the same pay to teach the same course during the same semester, even if the price to the student varies wildly from campus to campus.

      Is the hamburger you buy at a typical fast food place identical to the one you buy for ten times as much at an upscale place? Of course not. Why do our institutions of higher education get away with this?

      The student loan scam.

      All our higher education institutions are now powered by massive student loans…they basically all have the same customer, the one who ultimately provides the loans, the Federal government. This customer, the Federal government, is so clueless about education that it uses accreditation, which I’ve long since shown as bogus, to determine which institutions can get the money. Since accreditors get a cut, they determined every institution willing to write them a check is qualified, and education isn’t relevant.

      Once a school is accredited, the money pours in fast, paid by a customer who can’t differentiate between ground up pink slime and a porterhouse…the profit margin is better with the pink slime. The corporatization of higher education and resultant control by sociopathic Poo Bahs means profit, not education, is the only factor in deciding what to sell. Pink slime it is, then.

“I am an adjunct in the English department at a large public University in Texas. I also teach classes for a local community college. In addition, I do academic odd jobs, like ‘coaching’ in gigantic online distance ed classes and scoring AP exams.”

      Hey, see what admin did there? You don’t “teach” online courses (and by gigantic, we’re talking several hundred students, possibly over a thousand). You’re not a teacher, you’re a “coach.” This gives many benefits to the institution when it comes time to say they pay their professors well—coaches aren’t professors, see, and don’t figure into that calculation. Students pay the same price either way, of course.

     The number of students in online classes isn’t the only thing that’s gigantic, the profits are amaaaaaaazing as well. No need to share that with the teacher coach. Meanwhile, administrators re-classify themselves as professors even if they never teach a class (I’ve seen it), and then claim they pay the professors well.

“The problem, as your article points out, is that nobody is hiring. I’ve been on the market twice now, which means that this year I was applying for jobs alongside of people who just earned their degrees — and so this year, my cohort of 4 applied alongside another dozen or so. Of roughly 16 people (I don’t have the numbers on this exactly), 1 person landed a job. And of course, next year, those numbers will increase: the system has hit a bottleneck, so much so that after being told that the department intended to bring me back next year, just yesterday I received an email with the clause: “However, because of what is potentially an unprecedented number of new post-docs,…”

     Every time a position opens for an actual faculty member, we get hundreds of applicants…we hire one a year at best, then graduate, every year, a dozen or more Ph.D.s to seek their own position, and most every institution works the same way. I’ve written before of the irresponsibility of higher education in this regard. We need to slow down, but our administrators have overbuilt the campuses, overextended our institutions in a great number of ways…we need to ever push for more growth, beyond all reason, just to be able to keep up with the Poo Bah’s pay raises, as well as pay raises for hives filled with educrats that do nothing for students or education.

      At some point, this bubble has to pop (and please consider the graph at that link, closely), it’s only lasted this long by impoverishing our kids and educated class.

     More on this next time.