Saturday, 27 August 2011

In Case of Hurricane...

I have always lived inland. By which I mean that the idea of a hurricane has always been Something That Happened To Other People, and usually to Other People South Of Me. And yet Vaulting and I live just far up the coast enough that I'm decidedly unsure if my complete lack of concern about the impending Augustpocalypse is because I'm right (it's going to be a bit of a brutal storm, one not to go out in, but since we're renters and have nowhere else to go we might as well live it up and have a Hurricane Party) or because I'm wrong (my lack of experience in these matters will get me killed). I'm obviously banking on the former, but I suppose I'll make sure to unplug everything before we reach ground zero -- or before ground zero reaches us, that is.

In the meantime, there's an episode of Project Runway I haven't seen yet -- and I don't want to die with PR left unwatched.

See you after the party.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On Tenure in America

I warn you, this is a bit of a long post for me, but I think more relevant to the academic world than most of mine, so:

Yesterday, Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean published a post about the cumulative load of student loan debt. One, you should read that post and also check out the worrisome chart.

Two, he said something that irked me.

"Among the blogs, you’d get the impression that the biggest problem facing higher ed was its overreliance on adjuncts. Put differently, you’d get the impression that colleges are too frugal. The preferred alternative usually offered is a dramatic and sustained increase in labor costs. From whence the money to pay these increased costs would come is usually left to the imagination. "

I responded in the comments thusly:

"Come now, you know this isn't what we're griping about, nor a fair description of the solution. The problem is not an over-reliance on adjuncts so much as the replacement of full-time tenured positions with underpaid adjunct ones. We just want the number of full time with benefits teaching jobs to remain the same, not decrease in favour of part-time, no-benefits jobs. This shouldn't be described as a "dramatic and sustained increase in labor costs" so much as "keeping up with inflation" -- tough, I know, but certainly not as outlandish as you're making us sound.

Now I'll admit, I may not have spent more than five minutes responding, but today I have more time, and lucky commenter "Anonymous" at 6:11am gets that time spent on her or his response.
"Vellum: what I'd like to see is some statistics. Which schools have lost faculty positions, and how many? At my own institution, I can say with certainty that no faculty have been "replaced" with adjuncts. In real terms, the size of the department has increased significantly in the last ten years...just not as significantly as the number of adjuncts. DD's assumption (which seems in the main correct) is that more people are going to college and instructional loads are increasing, and that we can meet that increased burden with either expensive tenured faculty or inexpensive (in the short term) adjuncts. That's not "replacing;" that's just not increasing. If you can point to a department that had 20 full-time faculty a decade ago and only has 10 today, of course--in a discipline that hasn't seen drastic reductions in students taking classes; The Classics department at SUNY Albany, for instance was clearly not the victim of the contingent labor market--that might help ground this discussion in the facts."

I can't believe I never looked this up for myself. That's lesson one. You read statements like "the percentage of tenure and tenure-track faculty has shrunk to almost a quarter" and "the trend of tenured and tenure-track faculty lines being replaced by adjuncts will likely continue" and you think that across the board, retiring tenured faculty aren't being replaced with new tenured faculty.

That isn't exactly the case.

Yes, I'm sure it's happening in some places, but it's not the whole story. The whole story is both better and worse.

According to these data from the AFL-CIO, between 2001 and 2009 in the US, the total number of tenured faculty, that is, the total number of people with tenure at an institute of higher education, went up in every named category: Professor, Associate, Assistant, Instructor, Lecturer. That's the good news.

The bad news is that untenured and non-tenure-track jobs are becoming a larger part of the whole. While the data seem to only show a slight shift in the population as a whole so far, from 32.6% of the workforce in non-tenured/non-tenure-track jobs in 2001 to 35.9% in 2009, the discomforting thing is where the new jobs are being created. Of the roughly 87000 new teaching jobs reported from 2001-2009, nearly 60% (58.6%) were in non-tenure/non-tenure-track jobs.

Now, I'm also dubious as to how many "temporary" (read: adjunct) staff the Universities would report for this survey, and I can't find much data on that. It could well be that these are only non-tenure-track "full-time" positions being charted, which would leave all the tens of thousands of adjuncts unrepresented in this study.

This doesn't mitigate the way adjunct faculty are being treated. Nor does it really address the decreased quality of education when the economics of the situation are driven by such a lack of government funding that tuition is actually seen as a major source of budgetary income (seriously, in the rest of the western world, that idea is just loopy -- but then in the rest of the western world, you don't have to pay $20,000-$40,000 a year in tuition for a BA, either).

What it does suggest is that even though the pool of qualified PhDs is getting larger by the year, and even though the job market is getting more intensely competitive such that only the very, very top candidates get tenure-track positions, there are more tenure-track positions created in the US every year.

And that should be some small comfort to us all.

Even while we prepare to flip burgers with our non-Ivy PhDs hanging behind us on the wall.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Mid-August "We're Still Alive" Post

Hello, you few kind and gentle readers who still bother to have us in your feeds. Hello, hello.

It's August, and that means the terror of September is starting to settle in: I'm scrambling to conquer all the reading I meant to do this summer, and Vaulting and I are mentally preparing ourselves for our first semester of "TA-ing". Meanwhile we're trying to fit in seeing all the friends we haven't yet at the weekends (I haven't done so much wonderfully touristy stuff in North-East Metropolis in the past year as I have in the past two weekends!) and today I start packing for the move across town. That's right, even though things are lovely and wonderful in this apartment, we have to move (through no fault of our own). But at least we have a place, we've managed the down payments, and we have flatmates. Anglo-Saxonist Flatmate is remaining with us, although since Chaucerian Flatmate went off and got married (and give up living with us? silly man) we've since replaced him with a new character, who I suppose, seeing that she doesn't study history in any way, we shall call Present-Tense Flatmate. Present-Tense is cool and of-the-moment, and aside from occasionally making Vaulting and I feel somewhat old and boring (while she goes out clubbing and we sit at home playing skip-bo or watching Sports Night on Netflix) she's quite nice and we're happy to have her.

As for the blog and social media, I'm trying to stay on top of my Twitter feed, but I feel as though I've let my google+ account fall by the wayside. I couldn't be bothered with facebook, I'm not sure I'll be able to be bothered with the new facebook. Such is life. Finally, because I found them interesting once I figured out where to look, here are the top ten search terms that directed people to this blog. Some making more sense than others.

In no particular order, they are (with commentary):

1. a world lit only by misconceptions
(one of my finer ideas)
2. afghanistan one bullet costs $80,000
(not sure if that's accurate but that sounds rather pricey to me)
3. are bruce greenwood and sam neil related
(a damn fine question if you ask me)
4. badass canadian logger
(aren't all Canadians badass loggers?)
5. badass vols pic
( idea what they were looking for... maybe a picture of badass voles? though to be fair, I've no idea if a vole can even be badass. Maybe a skink or a stoat...)
6. bsg stands for
(Big Scary Giant - the BFG's douchebag cousin)
7. christianity survived depite medieval christians not because of them
(I think you mean "despite")
8. diana gabaldon movie
(oh god, I hope not)
9. hyperbole world lit only by fire
(that wasn't hyperbole, I really believe it to be the worst book ever written by a mammal with thumbs!)
(okay that might've been hyperbole)
10. museum salary negotiation
(and rounding out the final spot, someone looking for practical advice from Vaulting. Well they sure as heck weren't going to get it from me.)

Hope all your Augusts are going well!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

On Angry Blogging and the Use of the Second Person

Vaulting and I had very different reactions to this post about street harassment over at feministe. I wanted to explore why.

(A note for readers: I'm not certain why I reacted so negatively to it, but I'm pretty sure it's not because I think the lousy excuse for a human being who said "nice legs" while running over her foot was in the right. Just saying.)

See, Vaulting said I should go read the post because it encapsulated well the frustrations some women experience with their treatment on the street. There is (in my understanding of things) a problem in our society whereby many straight men think it's somehow their birthright to comment on a woman's appearance, usually in a way that claims a space and makes a woman (or, indeed, all women) into trespassers, welcome or otherwise.

Nevertheless, I couldn't read the post.

I started, but by the fifth-ish paragraph the animosity started to get to me, shortly after that I started to skim, waiting for the author to address me-- or, indeed, address anyone who wasn't the douchebag who ran over her foot. But it didn't happen. It left me feeling upset. Right to the very end, "you" meant "him".

And that's where I think the problem lay. There's a danger, I think, in using the second person when you're angry and blogging. Think of anger as a gun: when you're blogging, "you" is your reader -- the problem is, in this case, "you" is also who the gun is being pointed at. So even though the article was addressed to the fellow with his head so far up his posterior that he was wearing it as a hat, I had a hard time dissociating that "you" from the one that meant "me". That meant every bit of anger meant for him hit me, and resulted in my inability to continue reading the post long enough to empathize with the writer.

Maybe I'm "thin-skinned"; maybe that's it. All I know is that by the time I was halfway through, I felt done with being sworn at and blamed, and stopped reading. Maybe the blogger actually thought that the chauvinist-bicyclist was an every-day feministe blog reader, but I doubt it. I think in this case, and perhaps in many cases of angry blogging in the second person, our author has shot her arrow over the house, and hurt her readers.

What do you think, dear readers? Have you ever second-person angry-blogged? What were you aiming at? What did you hit?