Devaluing Higher Ed

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October 7, 2012 by badacademic2

There is a lot of talk right now about MOOCs — “free” online college classes with no required reading, no credit, and massive enrollment numbers. Undine, Historiann, and   Jonathan Rees have all written multiple posts saying great things about the craziness of MOOCs and the push, especially by places like CSU (see Historiann), to make money by using adjunct and grad student labor to staff online classes. That and this report, “Who is Professor Staff”, are so depressing.

I knew, from reading blogs,  that academia was difficult. Jobs were hard to come by. Blah blah blah. And yet, I had such a wonderful experience in  undergrad, and in the research I did between undergrad and grad — where I truly had a mentor who was feminist, understanding, and supportive of my disability, who never saw it as impinging on the intellectual merit of my research pursuits — that I thought it would be ok. I was told, yes, it is difficult, but you’re great, you do the right things, apply for the right fellowships and publish before you’re out, and you will be fine. Clearly, as Anastasia has talked about in the past, that is not always the case. In fact, it seems it rarely is. After all the rigmarole it takes to get a PhD, I would bet most are well-qualified, would be great professors, etc, but the lines keep getting cut.

Then I got to grad school, and after the rose-colored glasses came off, I saw the system for what it was. “Push the major on students you are TAing.” Because the more majors we have, the more money we get from the University, and that’s how we support the grad students. “Let’s start an undergrad minor in Buzzword Studies, because even though it’s technically a different discipline, it can be part of us too! And we need to be first in putting forward the proposal. But first we need to get Buzzwordy, Buzzwords, and Words like Buzz Departments to say they don’t mind if we make this minor, because there can’t be overlap, because the credit for the minors,  ie the money, has to come to us.” By the way, grad students, “push the minor on your students you TA, it’s in your best interest.”  Oh shit, now we need to hire more people who specialize in Buzzword-related things, because we need to teach these classes! Well, sure the person who left was in another subfield, but we now only have three people who do Buzzword-related things, we need more! Oh, sorry grad students who came here for other things, we are now re-orienting towards Buzzwordy stuff. But not explicitly.

Also, grad students, as this is all about the money, we need to accept X amount of grad students because we need TAs for those amount of undergrad classes. What pisses me off the most is this: there are two people in our department who *clearly* should not have grad students. One is a great undergrad professor but who does not take the time to advise students, or you know, do things when they say they will, like write letters of recommendation. The other is just an arse who they can’t get to retire. So what do they do?? Despite people switching advisors because of legitimate, serious problems, they wait a few years til those who switched or were asked to leave the program are gone, and then admit MORE grad students to work with those profs! Now that most of the grads who switched are gone, and those who remember them are gone, ie institutional memory is gone, we can admit them to work with these people b/c hey, we NEED the TAs. Those poor souls have no idea what they are in for. But in the meantime, you older PhD students, yah, you have taken “so” long because we only guarantee 3 years of funding but require 2.5 of coursework, and have had to adjunct while trying to do research or TA, we have no TA spots for you, sorry. You should be hitting the road. But maybe you want to adjunct? Also, please be honored that we are offering you this adjunct position with sad pay and no health benefits.

Because it’s all about the money, baby. One of the many reasons I do not ever want to work at an R1. These places are toxic. (Of course, Spouse has job at a SLAC and they are all about the money too, so  yah). Perhaps the issue is education is devalued in this country, higher-ed is a consumer “investment” on the part of parents and students. Perhaps part of the reason we encounter a consumerist student  population is because we are treating the people who do the educating like shit and the idea of “non-profit” has floated to the wayside.

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