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December 14, 2004

Megan on Academia

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Megan McMillan dropped a couple of comments on my previous posting that were so info-dense and helpful that I asked if I could copy-and-paste them into a separate posting. Megan has agreed. Important news for people who are in college, or who are thinking about going to college!

Here's Megan:

My husband is an art professor at a private liberal arts college, and it is a very good life. The pay is terrible, but the hours are great, the work is pleasant and intellectually stimulating and has lots of variety. Yes, the outside world balks at the idea of making and exhibiting art being deemed "research," but hey, you've got to call it something that applies to every discipline. Administrations rightly expect professors to stay current in their respective fields, thus the generic research requirement.

Most civilians don't realize the enormous difference between a research institution and a teaching institution. My husband works for a teaching institution, where students are of course the highest priority. Often the professors at private universities aren't as up on the latest theories/conferences/journal articles as those who work in research schools (although most try), simply because they don't have time. They're too busy teaching a 4/4 load and grading and filling their office hours and meeting with students and serving on committees.

Research institutions often only require 2/2 teaching loads (with the help of TAs), and the barest minimum of office hours. But they are expected to actively research and publish and/or exhibit. RIs get the majority of their money from state coffers, not from tuition, and usually have state mandates to serve as publicly funded think-tanks. Students are, by design, a much lower priority.

People should know this when they're shopping for colleges, but most don't. They assume that a college is a college is a college. But there are enormous differences. If you're footing the bill for tuition, you can have greater expectations of professors, but if you're only paying 2 grand a year, you can expect your child's teacher to phone in the lectures.

My favorite example of this was Derrida, who "taught" at UC Irvine. He flew in from France for six weeks during the fall semester, and met with graduate students a few hours a week on a lottery system and gave a few lectures. For this, he received a full professor's salary.

It seems to me that most of the profs who are active in the blogging community tend to be from research institutions, probably because they're the ones with more free time. It can seem as if they are speaking for all of academia at large, but really, the experiences at the different university levels are as vastly different as working as a corporate tax attorney is from being a public DA ...

Another angle that isn't discussed very often in this context is the financial factor. The pay for a professor in the "soft sciences" is terrible. For the "hard sciences" it's usually much better, because universities need to be competitive with the private sector. In the liberal arts, there is virtually no private sector, and the general feeling is that artists/theorists/writers/Renaissance historians should be lucky to have a job at all.

Most people are surprised to find that the pay for professors is so low, and in fact, graduates entering the academic work force are sometimes surprised by this as well. Often public secondary school teachers make more than college professors in the liberal arts. This fact is well-guarded from graduate students, who often don't hear starting salary figures until they're too far into the process.

Add to the mix that the average academic has had a minimum of seven years of higher educational schooling, the better part of his/her twenties, and has scrimped and saved and eaten ramen noodles and studied 24/7 while friends were getting entry-level jobs in corporate America and buying their first new cars and houses and were having fun with disposable income and leisure time and starting families. Tenure babies are a very real phenomena. The tenure-track requires absolute commitment to the process, and so extracurricular pursuits are often delayed.

Then add to that a $150k student loan ($700 a month, unless you consolidate) which can take 30 years to pay back, around the time your own children will be starting college.

I've got a friend who went to Harvard for an MBA and had $150k in loans when she graduated. Her starting salary at her new job (procured before graduation) was $130k. Presumably, she'll pay back her loans much, much quicker than an MFA with $150k who starts at $35 grand a year. You can see how a real bitterness about corporate America might start to develop.

Young profs are often idealist with missionary zeal and a socialist bent (champion of the working poor; often, liberal arts academics qualify as the working poor). They have to believe that what they're doing and studying is important, because they put a whole lot of time and energy into it and they're not exactly getting compensated accordingly.

Churches and faith-based organizations have a very similar dynamic to academic institutions (and similar issues with pay): the expectation is that you wouldn't be doing this if you didn't want to change the world, and you should be motivated out of the commitment to the cause, not because of money. In both cases, you get a dogmatic allegiance which often cloaks a real bitterness towards the institutional hand that feeds you.

Many thanks to Megan, who with her husband Murray runs a first-class artsblog here.



posted by Michael at December 14, 2004


Maybe we could get charitable contributions and mail this to all aspiring academics...!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 14, 2004 07:48 PM

"Young profs are often idealist with missionary zeal and a socialist bent (champion of the working poor; often, liberal arts academics qualify as the working poor). They have to believe that what they're doing and studying is important, because they put a whole lot of time and energy into it and they're not exactly getting compensated accordingly."

Soooo...the political bent they are being accused of is actually...craven capitalism and jealousy? I wouldn't be so pissed off by people who make lots of money if I was one of them? ignoble! How dishonest! How un-lofty! They sound like...those old Republicans!

Posted by: annette on December 14, 2004 09:39 PM

I'm not a professor, but i AM a student at one of those big state schools, where you HAVE to fight tooth and nail to get teacher attention.

I mean it isnt a big deal, but she's right NO one told me it would be this way. Eventually (read after 4 1/2 years) you learn how navigate the institution, hear about the good professors who actually care about you and give THEIR time in helping you succeed. (I had a conversation with a friend from a philosophy class and she exclaimed enthusiastically about one of her professors: "He actually CARES about you! He asked me what I was interested in!" I was shocked, I wanted his name.)Apparently paying 45k makes this a mandate at a private school, DEFINATELY not so where I go.

Then again, most students don't care anyways about any of that. College is somewhere you go to drink and have fun for four years and get your 21st degree technical education *cough* finance/marketing degree *cough*

But, I also have friends who ARE graduate students, and here's the thing, they read. ALOT. Just not stuff that you and I read. So their epistemological viewpoint is shaped in this frame. And purposefully, you have to know the history of the field, the theory etc etc, the cutting edge stuff. Just not how all of this fits in with oh I dont know the real world.
One of my friends is a first year doctoral candidate in American Studies, which I've gleamed isnt studying America, just about marginalization in America, and not in what I see as particularly progressive or helpful ways. My friend exclaimed how they have to read the neo-cons too. I was amazed when I found out he was referring to just Arthur Schlesinger Jr. who last time I checked was a staunch liberal, with just a burr in his side about multi-culturalism.

Anyways I really should be studying for final exams at said university, instead of rambling. I definately had a point before I started typing. I assume it's lost.

Posted by: azad on December 14, 2004 10:04 PM

ah my point:

Faculty especially in the softer sciences, spend more of their time around their graduate students, who they train, and frame the field around them. And not in just the this is what you should read way. If a student wants to right about something that a faculty member does not approve of, that faculty member has TREMENDOUS power over the course of the student's life. A recommendation is everything. So A) who are you as a graduate student whose lifeline (not that golden a one, according to meghan anyways) can be cut by any professor who doesn't like where you are going with an idea or paper. So what can a student do, hope to muddle through his doctorate, and then change the institution? ahh isn't that the same fallacy with everyone who wants to change an institution.

Also hearing stories of graduate life over drinks with my friends: of the pure egos and the cutthroatness of some of these programs (Johns Hopkins is supposed to be especially bad) among faculty with favorite students, between departments, between students, made me sick. It's no wonder that the product some of these departments produce travel along the so similar lines that they do.

(also MB, when i read the Rorty post i ALSO had no idea what you were talking about Rorty's disdain for conservatives, until you spelled it out in the comments. It's interesting what that says about my antenae and yours. (I still think he was just being backhanded and facetious not deeply serious).

Posted by: azad on December 14, 2004 10:33 PM

hmmmm... faith-based communities vs. reality-based communities :D

imagine that.

is there a lesson here for us all?


"In 1933, in Science and Sanity, Alfred Korzybski proposed that we should abolish the 'is of identity' from the English language. (The 'is of identity' takes the form X is a Y. e.g., 'Joe is a Communist,' 'Mary is a dumb file-clerk,' 'The universe is a giant machine,' etc.) In 1949, D. David Bourland Jr. proposed the abolition of all forms of the words 'is' or 'to be' and the Bourland proposal (English without 'isness') he called E-Prime, or English-Prime." -rawilson

"And I said you shouldn't make facts out of opinions" -modest mouse

Posted by: glory on December 14, 2004 11:56 PM

Or how about we say that students entering, or aspiring to enter into the field don't do enough research? I'm an aspiring academic - I'd like to teach Literature at a college level at some point in my life, and I have absolutely no romantic notions of changing the world. And I'm fully aware of the salaries academics draw in a liberal arts world. I'm completing my bachelors at a private liberal arts university, for god's sake.

I'm trying to pursue my passion, but I completed my degree in Marketing because I needed a back up plan. Who gives jobs to Literature graduates right off the bat anyway? My end goal is to teach at a small college/university that's centered around the students' welfare. Is that so unachievable? I don't think so. I have plenty of friends teaching in a community college environment who are very happy doing so. The sad thing here is that most people don't think about the day after until it has usually passed. Not that I'm saying that what's been posted here is false. I completely agree - but the difference would arise if students took off the rose colored glasses. Talk to a faculty member, or someone in the system who would know it well. Sure you have to fight tooth and nail for it, but if it means that much to you, you'll do it. Clearly, it's not impossible.

Posted by: Neha on December 15, 2004 01:46 AM

Neha -- I remember dimly a good series of articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was by a guy or gal who was teaching at a community college, and was very happy doing so. And it was full of tips about how to go about setting such a gig up for yourself. Interesting stuff! Of course I can't remember a single specific. I'll Google around a bit and see if I can turn the series up.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 15, 2004 08:43 AM

I think Megan hits on a larger issue with respect to academia: prospective graduate students are rarely told how graduate education actually works. When I told my professors at a top-tier-ish school that I was interested in graduate school, none of them told me how I should go about choosing a school, save to say "well, whose work do you like? Go study with them." The truth of the matter (which is pretty well-worn on the academic blogs like Bitch, PhD, Invisible Adjunct, etc) is that prestige of the department and the money they have to fund your education is far more important than that one brilliant scholar, or even a department full of them (at least in my field: Art History).

For most aspiring academics, Graduate School isn't seen as a long, tortuous initiation into a low-paid professoriate (though there are also a number of wonderful things about graduate school), but is just the final level of school, which top-level students often mistake as just the natural destination for smart kids interested in the Humanities. Most professors seem to think this general lack of academic transparency (both with respect to undergrads and grads about their future career hopes) provides them some kind of protection from the general community and that these problems will somehow solve themselves, but the various crises (a glut of adjuncts, lower-ranked PhDs wasting 7+ years of their life just to get jobs in high schools, etc) brought on by academics being unwilling to think of their profession as a job clearly indicate that something needs to change.

Posted by: theorywonk on December 15, 2004 09:54 AM

To those surprised by backbiting in academia, theorywonk has a good reminder - it's a job, a professional one, and though the doomsaying about entry-level positions is on point, it's actually also a relatively highly paid one in the top tiers. These are ambitious people, there's going to be politics. Those who have romantic notions about academia need to realize that ultimately they're swimming with sharks.

Also, and I say this with great sympathy for those in this position, but anyone who takes out 150k worth of loans to get a humanities MFA or PhD (to say nothing of an MA) is a total f*cking moron. I don't know how many friends I have who I see as essentially pulling the trigger on their futures because they don't think they've got any better options. The world is yours, there's no need to mortgage it back to the universities. If you're paying them that much, you're likely nothing but a revenue stream to them anyway.

That said, I can certainly understand people being passionate about their subjects, and if I hadn't gotten very lucky, I would likely have been right there with them, another little lemming leaping off the cliff. So as I said, my sympathies go out.

Posted by: sleepnotwork on December 15, 2004 10:17 AM

As an academic (though not a faculty member) in a hard science, I don't agree with some of Megan's points. Scientists typically are paid more than professors in the arts and humanities, but our salaries are not competitive with industry. That is, all academics could be earning more outside academia and therefore they are, or should be, in academia because they love what they are doing and appreciate the freedom to choose their own projects. I find those who believe that they are "not compensated accordingly" often have odd definitions of "accordingly", usually based on what their peers are earning in the outside world. Many of them have not worked for outside employers and don't appreciate how much more circumscribed and directed their activities would be in that environment.

For similar reasons, I think that academics with a socialist bent are often less motivated by the plight of the working poor than they are enamored of a system in which they picture themselves at the top, being rewarded for their insights and directing society. My point is not to stereotype academics, but to argue against the idea that they are somehow less selfish in their motivations than their peers outside academia.

I do agree with Megan that many students do not understand the realities of the PhD process and what the end result will be going in. With rare exceptions, a PhD is not required for anything but a career in academia. If it's another career path you want, get a bachelor's or master's degree and move on. Most students figure this out by the point they finish their masters, though, so they have the chance to change directions if they need to.

Finally, in the hard sciences and engineering at least, I think undergraduate students can get a quality education at a research institution. The best teaching professors I know are also those with the most active research programs. These people work hard, love what they are doing, and are willing to share their knowledge with any inquisitive person. They are not bitter (apparently an occupational hazard for some professors). That is perhaps the main difference between teaching and research schools in my opinion: in the latter, a student must take the initiative and seek out their education, which can be difficult for some young (and not so young) people. For those who do, though, you have access to the top individuals in their fields for teaching and research projects.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on December 15, 2004 12:52 PM

I did my engineering graduate work at a highly-regarded research university that is basically science and engineering. My biggest gripe was that the professors spent much of their time working up proposals and schmoozing for funding, most of which was corporate and DARPA. We grad students did _all_ the research. I wasn't interested in going to an academic research position at such a place, because then I would stop doing the interesting work and get mired in a research funding tar pit.

So, I went into private industry. I showed my advisor the job offer letter and when he saw the $$ offered he cussed in amazement. Maybe I did better than he expected?

Posted by: JazMan on December 15, 2004 01:37 PM


I should have clarified: hard science academics make considerably more than arts and letters types on the general university pay scale (although some private institutions have a level playing field for all profs, but those institutions usually don't offer too much by the way of hard science), because universities try to be competitive with industry, but everyone knows they can't truly compete.

That's one of the reasons it's so hard to recruit academics in fields where the pay is considerably higher in the private sphere. Even in the art/academic world, it's next to impossible to hire a good design professor; that's because they're all out there working for Pixar, et al, and making a bundle.

So yes, universities tend to recruit profs who want the amenities that an academic life can offer, usually a flexible schedule and summers off, and the ability to work with students, etc. It can be a nice life, a pleasant way to spend your workday, and that's a good trade-off in a lot of people's book.

In terms of being compensated accordingly, I'm mostly talking about the money and time invested in an education vs. the pay-off once you get a full-time gig. Docs/lawyers/business professionals have a better return on their time/money investment in education than liberal arts academics do.

One of the problems in the arts and letters arena is that there are so many people wanting to go into academia. MFA programs (creative writing, visual art, music, dance, etc) came to prominence in the 1970s, and have exploded in population in recent years. And you're right, someone with an MFA can either become a successful money-making artist/writer/musician (highly unlikely) or can work in education.

Universities can afford to pay much less to profs in these fields because there are so many applicants. Four years ago, my husband applied to a second-tier state university and got a letter back saying that they had over 700 applicants for this one particular job. Not many careers have that level of competition, particularly when you're talking about a job that would bring in 35 grand annually.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed publishes the median salary figures for every university, for the last three years ( While full professors do make considerably more than asst. profs, they're still not making bank.

Let's look at Stanford, where full profs in 2003 made 142.6k and asst profs made 78.9k. That's the median, so art profs will make lower and physics profs higher. It's certainly not terrible, but it takes years and years and years to become a full professor, and there's that Harvard MBA who starts at 130k right out of school. Anyway, it's far more likely that you'd get a position someplace like the Univ. of Redlands, not at Stanford, and you'd start at 49.3k or less.

That's if you're lucky enough to get a TT-job. As someone else said, most graduate students seem to wholeheartedly believe that they will be the exception to the rule, that they will be the one upon graduating. But the numbers are grim; last year at one prominent art school in SoCal, one in ten graduating MFAs got a job.

Often, grad students do know this, and so they try to stack the deck by applying to go to a school with lots of name recognition, like Art Center, which is 30 grand a year tuition. Since there are now so many students in these programs, and because schools have been so impacted by the economy in the last few years, much of the funding has dried up.

While it's still possible to get fellowships and grants for the hard sciences, few schools offer similar packages for the arts. Thus, it's becoming increasingly common for exiting MFAs to end up with around 150k in debt from grad and undergrad combined.

I absolutely agree that undergrad students in the hard sciences can benefit from research institutions, and that has a lot to do with the way that material is taught in those fields, usually in lectures and labs. In the arts and letters, discussions, seminars and critiques are generally the best method for learning (ever taken a 200 person lecture class in British lit? I have, and I don't recommend it).

Clearly, there are great, passionate, effective teachers in all educational settings and students would be wise to seek such professors out. My larger point is that academia, particularly in the arts and letters, has some enormous systemic problems that often lead to bitterness and frustration. Certainly, I'm not saying that all academics are bitter and frustrated — my husband loves his job, and having worked in the video game industry where he made a lot of money, but put in a ridiculous number of hours per week, he now gets up every day happy to go to work.

Nor am I saying that bitterness and frustration necessarily lead to a liberal political sensibility, but I do think that some of the stirring revolutionary rhetoric which so many non-academics point out has something to do with the working conditions of academics.

Posted by: Megan on December 15, 2004 02:43 PM

Hi Megan,

Thanks for adding to your original remarks. It's clear that obtaining a PhD in science (or engineering) is a much better bet compared to the humanities than I realized.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on December 15, 2004 03:29 PM

Isn't her name "McMillan," not "McMurray"? I think you conflated her last name with her husband's first.

Posted by: Stuart Buck on December 15, 2004 03:41 PM

My last name is McMillan, thanks Stuart.

Posted by: Megan on December 15, 2004 03:57 PM

Whoops, yes, of course, apologies. Corrected.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 15, 2004 03:58 PM

Fascinating discussion, everyone.

I originally wanted to be an English Professor, and did a solo project with a prestigous professor early on. This was in the early 90s and I was in way over my head when it came to the jargon, gender wars, correctness, and seemingly pointless nitpicking that came with the territory in English. So,I burnt out on that, but I was still an undergraduate sophomore!

So, I was very lucky to get a good enough taste of the humanites experience early enough to have plenty of other options. Ended up being a philosophy major and was surprized to find Western academic Philosophy much closer to engineering than what I thought was a humanity. So, don't be misled by Rorty. You can, and I did, do a major in philosophy without experiencing any political bias (hell, we rarely discussed Ethics, it was always "Meta-Ethics" or if we had any given Ethical system, what would it look like?, yeesh).

But look on the Sunny Side -- you can
A)Take Megan's excellent advice about considering teaching colleges strongly and
B)Take everyone's advice (don't forget the Invisible Adjunct! We miss you! stay the heck away from non-science PhDs unless you really can do nothing else and
C)Given the "lousy" (as the Blowhards say) state of much of the $100,000+ colleges, get your kids a much better and cheaper education elsewhere, use private tutors, listen to the Teaching Company, and then POCKET THE DIFFERENCE.

When my kids are between the ages of 14 and 24, I intend to focus equally on their education and retirement funds. Any part of non-free education that can't justify the return I'd get them by putting it in a Roth IRA will go out with the trash.

Just a brief example -- saving $50,000 by 22 on education (not hard to do) and investing it at a 6% return (also not hard) is $612,000 at age 65. That would free up my kids during their childbearing years to be able to spend their resources on my grandchildren. Just a dream I have.

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on December 15, 2004 05:07 PM

yes but science & engineering PhDs are mostly foreigners :D


"truth is the relationship between facts" [or something to that effect, in french :] -omar in la chinoise

Posted by: glory on December 15, 2004 05:47 PM

All these posts just make me think traditional academia is a shrinking port in a storm. People, such as your guest, who want to wind up teaching at a small teaching-oriented liberal arts school, are, I believe, discovering that even these schools (I graduated from one) are becoming more and more demanding on the publish-prestigious-materials front, in order to compete for the ever shrinking market of students whose parents can afford to send them to these schools. The days of happily "being a teacher" and "no pressure to publish even though the pay is lower" are really receding in the distance. Conversely, less expensive alternatives, which are appealing to more students, such as junior colleges...candidly, don't really need Ph.D's. Masters degrees, and ideally, people with "real world" experience who, say, just teach one class a semester in addition to a "real job" are plenty to teach freshman english or sophomore level economics. I have no doubt that several posters here could do it right now very well.'ve either got to be a real razzmatazz researcher-publisher or have completed a novel that's actually been sold...or I think many might be squeezing in teaching a lit class one night a week while working at the phone company or whatever. The world just can't AFFORD so many pure academics anywmore.

Posted by: annette on December 15, 2004 09:16 PM

As near as I can tell, academia--as most people imagine it--has been on the endangered species list for the past two decades, with a number of systemic failures to look ahead making the problem worse for each generation, and will likely not get any better until a number of wholesale changes take place (unionization of graduate students, pressure to either erradicate tenure or solve the adjunt 'problem,' etc).

I think it's a stretch to say that existing within a fiercely competitive system of work leads to the kind of political biases so frequently assocaited with academic work, though. I don't think such biases are a problem, but it seems like they predate the current (horrendous) system.

Posted by: theorywonk on December 16, 2004 04:04 AM

A few random thoughts on this topic --

Despite the supposed glut of Ph.D.'s, we (Good, in some areas Great State University) have had difficulty filling a number of positions in the humanities in recent years, strangely enough. We also, because it's the Bay Area, often lose candidates during the offer process, because we can't offer a salary high enough to compete with an offer elsewhere, or high enough to allow living above the poverty line in this neck of the woods. If there were a million humanities Ph.D.'s running around, why would we have so much trouble? By the way, when applications come in from 700 people for a job, you can bet your boots that 2/3 to 3/4 of them are completely off the mark in terms of their qualifications, and another large bunch is not really what you were looking for. If you wind up with 20 people you want to do screening interviews with, it's a miracle.

I agree with what's been said about the ratcheting-up of expectations at state universities -- despite the fact that we have a normative 4-course load each semester (which those in Science and Engineering do not teach), the expectations for publishing have been steadily increasing in the two decades I've been with the university. Books are now expected, if not required; published work is sent to outside reviewers for comment (rather than relying on colleagues inhouse), etc. etc. In my opinion, it's a crime, and it creates an enormous amount of anxiety and stress on young colleagues. If we want to pretend we're part of the UC system instead of the California State University system, at least get the teaching down to a manageable load; if not, just back off, Jack, and let us teach, which is why most people opted for the CSU in the first place.

BTW, you can get a really good education at a state college -- my doctor went to my school for her undergraduate education and had no trouble getting into an excellent medical school; I started our at community college, then got my BA and MA at the school where I now teach and had no problem getting into a Ph.D. program at Stanford. I think the incredibly expensive undergraduate education is overrated.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 16, 2004 11:24 AM

Of course, that should be "started OUT at community college" -- perhaps the incredibly expensive undergraduate education is not that overrated after all.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 16, 2004 11:27 AM

This seems at least partly related. A rich alum family provided a gift to my alma mater to conduct a colloquium each fall which "advances liberal education." It was a bit of a disappointment to the endowing family this year and the following excerptfrom a letter from the endower says why. Speaks a bit to a type of academic arrogance and agenda, no?

"This year Professor Deborah Geis, English, coordinated the Crimmel Colloquium.

It was successful in every way except one: It did not advance the cause of liberal education. Instead it promoted “multicultural education.” In this respect it was not different from its three predecessors.

The 2001 Colloquium, was designed to promote anti-colonialism, the 2002 Colloquium was used to “humble Western cultural arrogance,” and the 2003 Colloquium was employed to advertise “service learning.”

It is profoundly disappointing to me and my family to realize that, after four years, a Colloquium on liberal education has yet to hold a single dialogue on liberal education.

In a letter to the editor I argued that multicultural “education” is incompatible with liberal education because it has a political goal, not an educational goal.

I suggested that political indoctrination should be handled by public secondary schools. Then liberal arts colleges like DePauw could give their uncompromised attention to providing their students with a liberal education..."

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 11:39 AM

To me, annette, that is just plain stupid. There are a hundred topics that could have been chosen that could have satisfied both the donors and the university -- why they had to focus on things that would be hot-button topics is a complete mystery to me.

I don't know, maybe because we don't have a whole lot of them at my university, we tend to worry a lot about pleasing donors, even when it's a $500/semester scholarship. I don't think we would compromise our integrity in the process, if it came to that, but I think if you're going to take someone's money, you should be sure that what you're doing is going to make them feel satisfied, otherwise what message are you giving to other potential donors? If the donor's philosophy or beliefs are so at odds with your university's that you'll come to conflict over it, refuse the damn money. Period.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 16, 2004 12:10 PM

Miss Grundy---You guys sound more responsible! Believe it or not, the organizer of the Colloquium this year argued---with the donor, in battling letters in the student newspaper, no less--that she fulfilled the requirements just fine because it just depends on how you define "liberal education" and "liberal arts." The donor kind of won this argument when he pointed out that this had been defined for them in the "Agreement of Gift." Oops. But you're right. That ole biting the hand that feeds you, thing....

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 12:28 PM

I can't believe the person in charge of Development for the university isn't all OVER that faculty member -- how can it be good for the university that it's getting such negative publicity over a donation?? All I can do is shake my head in disbelief over such behavior.

That donor could come right over to my school, and we'll treat him right, and I teach, as I've said before, at one of the most liberal/radical campuses in the country. I bet I could come up with a topic that would leave both factions happy.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 16, 2004 07:58 PM

Miss Grudy- you've hit the nail on the head on a topic that I initially avoided getting into, but which is, in fact, a good portion of the problem: cost of living.

We're in SoCal, and where the median cost of a house is 610k. I'm sure your final candidates are wise enough to run the same numbers we have and see that it's next to impossible to make it work financially, and so they accept offers at state schools in the flyover states (where the resentment towards red America seeps into the classrooms... ah, well, never mind on that particular conspiracy theory of mine).

There's the old cliche that art history (my discipline) is a rich person's hobby, and it's really true. Successful art world folks are often independently wealthy.

On another note, part of the educational crisis that we're discussing, in my opinion, has to do with the fact that our society is still in the process of revisioning what we think a college education should look like.

Never before have so many people gone to college. Until relatively recently, college was a place to go to get a general, liberal arts education, not a stepping stone into a career.

If a college education is now a requirement in today's working world, what exactly do we think that education should comprise? Do we want students to learn critical thinking skills? the great books? languages? exposure to culture? the latest version of PhotoShop? how to write a memo? what a business plan should look like?

I, for one, think it's a sad thing to give up on the idea of a general liberal arts education in favor of a professional track, even if that professional track is routed towards academia itself. We're becoming an uneducated society, even as more and more of us receive degrees.

Posted by: Megan on December 16, 2004 08:43 PM

Okay, if you want my opinion, it's this -- 1) too many people are going to college these days, people who really don't want to be there and who shouldn't *need* to be there. Our culture has over-credentialled jobs to a ridiculous point -- there are many jobs that shouldn't need a college degree (basic accounting, for one), and it should also be very respectable for people to go into a trade. 2) the whole stepping-stone-into-a-career thing is making a joke out of college. Schools of Business could care less that they're turning out people with basic business skills who will be able to get into an entry level job, but will never move out of it because they do not have the literacy skills or critical thinking skills to move ahead. 3) Students on our campus have actually become outraged at professors in their major who downgrade a paper that has decent content but that is poorly written, because all that counts, after all, is their knowing the material. 4) there's more and more push, as we all know, to see students as the consumers, and what consumers of education want is to get those classes done and get out -- and don't hold me back for any of those pesky general education requirements, or a foreign language class, or a literature class (it's actually *almost* possible to get through my university without one). I actually had a student tell me today that his tuition pays my salary as a college administrator, so I'd better rethink the fact that I had denied his appeal of a college regulation . . . the argument of a true consumer. Can you tell that it's the end of the semester, and I'm pretty fed up?

Posted by: missgrundy on December 17, 2004 02:42 AM

Isn't that interesting.
On the one hand, when it comes to donors, "I think if you're going to take someone's money, you should be sure that what you're doing is going to make them feel satisfied".

On the other, "I actually had a student tell me today that his tuition pays my salary as a college administrator, so I'd better rethink the fact that I had denied his appeal of a college regulation . . . the argument of a true consumer".

What is different in these two opposite attitudes coming from same person?
Is it that University already got that student's money (and can make it truly unpleasant for him to transfer to a different college in case he decides to pay for his education someplace else)?
Whereas there is no means for University to force the donor to continue his contributions if he's dissatisfied with services he's provided in return to his money.
Or is it simply overall view on the students (and their parents) as a milking cows - preferably silent ones. It looks more like slavery system than temple of high learning to me - while I'm the one with knowledge, I will decide how many and which classes you'll take - your part is to pay and shut up. And students learn, they learn. After they graduate they assume same arrogant attitude towards people they're paid to serve, at work. Have you ever tried to get yearly bloodwork at your "family phisician" and some problem visit combined? Right, you'll get "make another appointment for that" rebuke. Ever noticed the change of tone of your lawyer, or tax accountant, etc - on a first and second visit? When you're started to get charged for every sneeze (15 min of completely unnecessary phone conversation with your lawyer telling you about his Cuba vacation just cost you $100 in incoming bills)

Why not trust the students as consumers? If future project manager doesn't think he needs 5 semesters of high math (and he doesn't - ask any practicing one) or 3 semesters of creative writing - don't force him. If he'll have a chance to work overseas and ever regrets not taking that French class - hey, life is still going on, and Teaching Co or others on the market offer continuing education options.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 17, 2004 11:43 AM

Well, gee, I guess you've got me, Tatyana, except . . .

The student has paid to get an education, he or she is in fact getting that education (and a good one, too), but part of it involves following certain rules and regulations, and oh yeah, learning to take responsibility for your actions. In this particular case, the student ignored two semesters worth of warnings that he was about to lose his registration priority because he had not fulfilled a university requirement in a timely way, did not check his registration date to see that he had indeed lost his priority date, missed the deadline for filing an appeal by a month, and then sent two abusive emails to me when I told him I was sorry, it was too late. And says that I have somehow "turned the situation around so that this is his fault." And tells me that he is paying my salary, so I should do what he wants. I believe I am doing the job I am paid to do, and contributing significantly to his education by helping him to understand that the choices we make in life have consequences, and if you screw up, there may *not* always be someone who can bail you out at the last minute.

But if I am wrong, I'm sure you will set me straight.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 17, 2004 01:50 PM

You're probably right in that particular conflict (although it is wrong to automatically assume without listening to the other side's opinion).
But all this background wasn't given; instead you used "consumer" as derogatory term.
I wonder why?
Could it be you don't like to be reminded you're working in a service industry, especially by a person who depends on you - even if that same person is participating in paying your salary, directly or indirectly - in your case thru state where he or his parents pay taxes?

I don't see a problem in setting somebody straight - I work in a service industry too, albeit private one - and my boss or my clients never hesitate with their feedback on my performance. I take it as reality check.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 17, 2004 02:19 PM

Believe me, Tatyana, I never lose sight of the fact that I am in a service industry, and I dedicate a great deal of time and energy to serving the students of our university. One confirmation that I am doing my job well is seen in the steady stream of cards, letters, candy, small gifts, hugs, etc. etc. that come my way at this time of year, from satisfied consumers that I have helped. Being helpful does not always mean giving someone what they demand; it means giving them what's right, and perhaps along the way teaching them that being civil will get you farther in life than being a complete jerk.

I'm sorry, I don't see how I have assumed without listening to your opinion -- it seems to me that you've assumed a great deal about me, based on your unfortunate experience with the service economy, experience I don't share -- my doctor spent 1/2 hour with me the other day, listening carefully and responding with concern. You need to find a new doctor.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 17, 2004 03:02 PM

This is getting way too petty, personal and irrelevant to the subject.
I didn't say you assume anything without listening to my opinion; please reread what I said. I meant opinion of the student you had a conflict with.
I wish you all the candy and gift cards in the word that Santa could carry.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 17, 2004 03:27 PM

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