Posts Tagged ‘humanities’
* #AltAc megapost: Humanities Unbound: Careers & Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track.
* Decadence watch: Flights Delayed Across Country Amid Budget-Cut Furloughs of Air Controllers.
* Reddit wants you to know it is sorry. Time to focus on its core competencies of creepshots and porn.
France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after a wrenching national debate and protests that flooded the streets of Paris. Legions of officers and water cannon stood ready near France’s National Assembly ahead of the final vote, bracing for possible violence on an issue that galvanized the country’s faltering conservative movement.
The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just minutes after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.
I have a lot of questions.
* Tumblr of the day: http://100percentmen.tumblr.com.
* Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr stated in letters to the Michigan Employee Relations Commission (MERC) that it is within his power to end collective bargaining in the city. Specifically, Orr claimed he is under no legal obligation to participate in bargaining or compulsory arbitration with public safety employees, including police, firefighters and emergency medical responders.
After some reflection, it’s become clear to me that there is a crucial difference in how the Internet’s remaking of higher education is qualitatively different than what we’ve seen with recorded music and newspapers. There’s a political context to the transformation. Higher education is in crisis because costs are rising at the same time that public funding support is falling. That decline in public support is no accident. Conservatives don’t like big government and they don’t like taxes, and increasingly, they don’t even like the entire way that the humanities are taught in the United States.
It’s absolutely no accident that in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, three of the most conservative governors in the country are leading the push to incorporate MOOCs in university curricula. And it seems well worth asking whether the apostles of disruption who have been warning academics that everything is about to change have paid enough attention to how the intersection of politics and MOOCs is affecting the speed and intensity of that change. Imagine if Napster had had the backing of the Heritage Foundation and House Republicans? It’s hard enough to survive chaotic disruption when it is a pure consequence of technological change. But when technological change suits the purposes of enemies looking to put a knife in your back, it’s almost impossible.
The Ph.D Bust: America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts. The humanities show up as a point of contrast:
That uptick in postdocs is really striking.
MOOCs deploy the rhetoric of innovation and "the future," but I find they're really a fantasy about the end of history.—
Gerry Canavan (@gerrycanavan) February 17, 2013
MOOCs are how you'd structure higher education if you believed there were no future.—
Gerry Canavan (@gerrycanavan) February 17, 2013
These tweets got a lot of attention over the weekend, so I wanted to take a minute and expand a bit on why I think this is the case. On some level, after all, this seems like a calculatedly perverse thing to say; as we all know, MOOCs are the one and only future of a higher education system that is otherwise doomed. Doomed! And don’t they use computers, and the Internet? What could be more future-oriented than that?
But MOOCs actually register an end-of-history fantasy in at least three ways:
(1) First, the most basic economic justification for MOOCs assumes that the funding conditions of the current financial downtown (2008-) will never reset. Colleges, we are repeatedly told, are to face ever-declining budgets from this moment forward forever. There will never be any period of expansion and growth again; consequently “we must all learn to do more with less.” From my perspective this supposedly urgent need to upend the basic assumptions that have governed university life over its centuries-long history — of which the MOOC is but the most salient example — is both a hyper-reaction to temporary vibrations in the economic cycle and an unnecessary surrender to a shock-doctrine rhetoric of permanent crisis. Draconian cutbacks to education are a choice we are making, not an historical inevitability or some unyielding law of nature, and a choice we can yet unmake.
But going deeper:
(2) The pedagogical justification for MOOCs derives from a misunderstood belief in the surety and fixidity of current academic knowledge when, in fact, the entire point of the academy is discovery and dialogue. That is: the MOOC assumes we know what there is for us to know, and the only question now is how to package that knowledge in its best possible form for widest dissemination. So we must locate the “most charismatic” professors — but really, why not hire actors? — and have them lecture “deliver content” for huge Internet audiences of 10,000 or more.
But this bears no relationship to what actually goes on in classrooms, at least in the humanities fields in which I’ve spent the last fifteen years. The vitality of our teaching derives not from the recitation of what is certain but from the explorations of questions that are still unsettled and raw. MOOCs presume that nothing new will be produced in research — the entire point is to freeze established “content” in its perfected form — but also that nothing new or worthwhile is produced in the two-way encounter between teacher and student. Neither assumption reflects any college classroom I’ve ever sat in or how we in the humanities teach and learn.
This is at odds, we should further note, with the ecstatic assertions of “disruption” that frequently accumulate around discussions of the MOOC. In fact the MOOC is not a disruptive form but a fundamentally conservative one, flattening academic practice into the playing back of fixed lectures from a handful of professors recorded who-knows-how-long-ago under who-knows-which conditions. The MOOC is, in short, exactly how you’d structure higher education if you believed there was no future, if you believed you were living at the end of history and nothing was ever going to change. It’s in fact the interactive educational experience that is dynamic and radically adaptative, the interactive experience that has the power to disrupt the things both student and teacher think they know for sure.
(3) Parallel to this there is the question of who exactly is supposed to update all these MOOCs, or record new ones, years and decades from now, as will inevitably become necessary. And in some ways this is the crucial point, not just about MOOCs but about neoliberal attempts to defund and deprofessionalize the academy more generally. People working in the academy themselves are commonly complicit in this; we generally treat questions of our own reproduction as a kind of unhappy embarrassment, as if it weren’t necessary for any field of human activity to attend to the replenishment of its own conditions for existence. (Indeed, what’s wrong with the short-term balance-sheets of late capitalism is precisely this failure to attend in any meaningful way to long-term sustainability.) What’s unique about the field of higher education is that it itself is in crucial ways the system of replenishment for so many other fields — the means by which we produce more engineers, writers, teachers, lawyers, journalists, doctors, and so on. But higher education is also the means by which higher education replicates itself, as it must, as any system must. It needs to fulfill both mandates as it goes or the system will collapse.
Articulating the need for more professors in the future — and thus grad students and assistant professors in the present — isn’t any different than doctors recognizing that in each year that comes there will always need to be more med students to replace those doctors who will retire or die. There are children being born today who will someday need college professors. There are children not yet born who will someday become professors for children not yet born! The university requires a rational and sustainable system for replicating itself into the future because there will still need to be a university system after we are all dead.
Failing to account for, and pay for, the continuation and reproduction of a necessary system isn’t economic rationality; it isn’t a hard-nosed commitment to making the tough choices; it’s the exact opposite. It’s living as if there is no future, no need to reproduce the systems we have now for the future generations who will eventually need them. The fantasy that we could MOOCify education this year to save money on professor labor next year, and gain a few black lines in the budget, ignores the obvious need for a higher educational system that will be able to update, replenish, and sustain the glorious MOOCiversity when that time inevitably comes. Who is supposed to develop all the new and updated MOOCs we’ll need in two, five, ten, twenty years, in response to events and discoveries and technologies we cannot yet imagine? Who is going to moderate the discussion forums, grade the tests, answer questions from the students? In what capacity and under what contract terms will these MOOC-updaters and MOOC-runners be employed? By whom? Where will they have received their training, and how will that training have been paid for? What is the business model for the MOOC — not this quarter, but this decade, this century?
In a thousand ways today, all across the world, higher education today is eating its seed corn; MOOCs are just a particularly visible example of this phenomenon.
The answer to this objection, as best as I can tell, is that elite students will still have elite colleges, and their elite professors will just do all the new MOOCs. But this is revealing — against a rhetoric of radically democratizing MOOCs that expand access for all, we find instead a reality of intensifying class divisions in higher education, making the current divide between educational cohorts both formal and permanent while at the same time returning to us the worst aspects of the academy’s past as a luxury only for the rich. It’s also a fundamentally self-defeating explanation for how all this is supposed to work; when pushed to its limit the radical disruption of the MOOC turns out to retain the “rotten tree” of the university after all, just for those who can still afford to pay. To take up Aaron’s hyperextended metaphor once again, from this perspective we might say that the MOOCiversity keeps only the rotten tree, and clear-cuts the rest of the forest.
Of course this is not to say that every MOOC is necessarily bad. Of course not. It seems to me there are plenty of places where this pedagogical model can work quite well; I’ve even heard rumblings on my own campus of limited MOOC-style projects that could (at least potentially) solve real structural problems with core instruction here. I don’t oppose the MOOC form in principle any more than I oppose online classes, or three-hundred-person-lectures, or Wikipedia. There’s a place for multiple pedagogical models in knowledge production, and certainly a place for experimentation. But this fantasy we keep hearing of replacing whole campuses and all courses and all instruction with MOOCs — of doing away with face-to-face and digital-face-to-digital-face instruction entirely, at least for bulk of students and professions — is a fantasy of tearing down the robust university system our society spent centuries building and selling it for scrap. I say we shouldn’t do it.
* Professor Leaves a MOOC in Mid-Course in Dispute Over Teaching. The details on this are fascinating:
Gary Matkin, the dean for distance education at Irvine, said the problem had stemmed from Mr. McKenzie’s reluctance to loosen his grip on students who he thought were not learning well in the course.“
In Professor McKenzie’s view, for instance, uninformed or superfluous responses to the questions posed in the discussion forums hobbled the serious students in their learning,” said Mr. Matkin in an e-mail.
Irvine officials, however, “felt that the course was very strong and well designed,” he said, “and that it would, indeed, meet the learning objectives of the large audience, including both those interested only in dipping into the subject and those who were seriously committed” to completing the course.
Twitter user @cjprender has a slightly different take.
Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I think the real root of MOOC-mania is an edifice complex on the part of university presidents and trustees. The last time I checked, the average university president in this country served for about four years before moving on to greener pastures. It used to be that the easiest way to leave a legacy on campus would be to build something. With bond financing nearly impossible to come by these days, the easiest (but not necessarily least expensive) way to build something is to create a virtual campus.
* ’8 College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment.’ Stupid vital careers necessary for the smooth operation and reproduction of social goods! Why don’t you get paid, son?
* Bérubé: The Humanities, Unraveled.
The narration for one of the film’s early promotional trailers includes references to the “attack” on the proprietary sector by policy makers, politicians, unions, and other critics who “protect the flawed status quo.”
“Many politicians continue to manipulate the truth and serve the interests of the unions in order to keep the private sector from serving adult learners, creating a virtual, permanent underclass,” says the narrator in one clip that was on the Web site of Fractured Atlas but was replaced afterThe Chronicle inquired about it.
Unions! I hate those guys.
The already notorious In Praise of the Three-Fifths Compromise piece from Emory’s president has spawned a number of good “teaching moment” pieces from a number of young academic bloggers, as well as a quasi-retraction from Wagner himself. (Don’t call it a gaffe!) First, the retraction; I’m glad this is up so quickly, but it importantly misses the mark.
In retrospect we can fairly ask ourselves, would we have voted for the Constitution—for a new nation, for “a more perfect union”—if it meant including the three fifths compromise? Or would we have voted no—that is, voted not to undertake what I hope we see as a noble experiment, however flawed and imperfect it has been.
To locate this question in the agency of a privileged class—should we have voted for this?—replicates again the error of the original piece, in which the suffering of the disprivileged is bracketed in the name of the “higher purpose” of the elites. It’s a profoundly anti-democratic narrative, in which decision-makers take notice of the consequences of their actions only from 10,000 feet (if they deign to notice at all). This is the angle Natalia Cecire takes up in “Race and the Privilege of Innocence”:
Wagner apologizes for his “clumsiness and insensitivity,” framing his column as a bumbling, stumbling error, a sort of intellectual version of a lack of motor skills. He seems bewildered that anyone could take him to be suggesting that slavery was okay, because that wasn’t his point. But the fact that it wasn’t his point is the point. It only makes sense to view the 3/5 Compromise in a purely formal register—as an example of compromise rather than a famous historical instance of wealthy white men bartering with one another over the political value of black bodies—if you can only imagine yourself as one of the barterers and not as one of the bartered, if slave history is not your history. Wagner was thinking of “compromise” as such, from the point of view of the people in a position to compromise: the wealthy white male landowners who had a legal say in this country’s founding; he is, as it were, innocent of blackness. Circulating in a universe in which enfranchised whiteness is the norm and disenfranchised blackness is not on the radar except as an abstract concept to be bartered over, Wagner demonstrates a basic unawareness, compounded by his after-the-fact bewilderment that others don’t share it.
Tressie McMillan Cotton takes up the difficult task of pulling out the metaphor to the context of cuts to the liberal arts to which it is meant to apply:
What Wagner revealed with his slavery allusion, I believe rather unintentionally, is how ideologues in higher education debates conceive of the spoils. If slaves were a means to an economic and hegemonic end, then education credentials are not conceptually altogether different to those with the authority to have the debate. That distinction matters. As the 3/5ths compromise was for slaveholders an ideological debate as opposed to the material reality of the enslaved, this higher education debate a matter of something altogether more than just an ideological battle over who will control the means of production, whether that be cotton or sheepskins.
And Aaron Bady twists the knife on the figure of the CEO university president:
James Wagner’s casual and apathetic ignorance about slavery is one thing, and his assault on the liberal arts is another. I want to be clear about that: I am not equating them with each other, even if there is a certain overlap (as Tressie McMillan Cottom argues). But the kind of thinking that allows a person to value “compromise,” as such, is the kind of mind that doesn’t care very much about what is being compromised. The kind of mind that can cut a university’s education studies division, physical education department, visual arts department, and journalism program—sacrificing core functions of the university in order to save money so the university can “continue”—is also the kind of mind that could see slavery as the unfortunate broken eggs that were needed to make the national omelette. There is nothing surprising about this, in other words. This is what we should expect when a university president is essentially a CEO. And the easiest response is simply to shrug our shoulders. Can we expect better? Should we be surprised?
UPDATE: Two more good ones. Chris Taylor:
Ultimately, antebellism gears us up for political war only to tell us that the battle has already been decided—there’s no longer any politics, no longer any open struggle through which the future will be decided. Instead, we’re invited to invest political meaning in the technologies of neoliberal governance, in what Wagner calls “the rich tools of compromise.” We need to read Wagner’s choice of example, then, as the end result of an attempt to derive a political feeling from the withdrawal of the political. Ultimately, that’s what all antebellism does: it allows us to feel political even as we abandon the political—or, rather, even as the political abandons us. “Compromise” both names this withdrawal of the political and invests our acquiescence to it with a pseudo-political affect. It does not so much describe a peaceful, pacifying working relationship between willful and opposed political subjects (Republicans and Democrats, say, or partisans of the humanities and the sciences) as it does the conformation of varied and antagonistic political wills to an exorbitant, apolitical logic (i.e., neoliberal capitalism). We don’t compromise so much as our possibility for political action has been compromised. It is our recognition of the compromised nature of any political action that is supposed to subtend all contemporary politics—indeed, it’s supposed to pass as politics.
and Noelle McAfee:
As shocking as Wagner’s invocation of the 3/5 compromise to make a point is, let’s not lose sight of what is so troubling about the point he was trying to make: that maybe the value of the liberal arts should be compromised. If there’s a debate on the value of the liberal arts, let’s have that debate. But rather than do so, the Emory University administration has been unilaterally deciding the outcome of this question. The vast majority of programs chosen for closure in the recent cuts at Emory have been in the arts and humanities. Rather than any open opportunity to come to a collective compromise, the process for the decisions (consulting a committee sworn to silence, which never kept minutes, and hugely underrepresented faculty in the humanities) compromised any chance that those targeted in the humanities could have their say.
Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.
President of Emory (and former dean/provost/interim president of my beloved alma mater) really steps in it, authoring a column that praises the Three-Fifths Compromise in the name of draconian cuts to humanities programs. This was all any academics were talking about on Twitter this afternoon; a tiny sample from my corner of the web.
* Breaking: Liberal arts majors didn’t kill the economy.
* In the beginning, God created the wealth and the jobs. Now the wealth was a formless void and darkness covered the sources of value, while the spirit of capitalism hovered over the depths. And then God said, “Let there be jobs,” and there were jobs. And God saw that the jobs were not very good; and God separated the jobs from the surplus-value. God called the surplus-value Wealth, and the jobs he called Generosity. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1: A Neoliberal Account.
* Janet Stephens, amateur hairdressing historian. Fun story, despite the classist overtones.
* Fox News screws up every day, but this one is pretty classic.
* There’s obviously some sort of long-term plan here that I don’t yet understand, like the time-bombs hidden in No Child Left Behind: North Carolina to formalize two “tracks” of high school diplomas, “job-ready” and “college-ready.”
* The Talmudic solution to the drone crisis: invent (another) secret, unaccountable court system in lieu of actual due process.
* And George Bush, painter.
* Great research opportunity for any PhD student studying science fiction, fantasy, horror, and/or utopia: the R.D. Mullen Fellowship. I loved the time I spent in that archive.
* CFP: The cultural impact of Dr. Who, at DePaul University. Saturday, May 4.
* On Getting a Ph.D. This is stirring, but all the same my unhappy advice hasn’t really changed since the last time a rebuttal to the just-don’t-go doomsayers was making the rounds.
* …But the most unfortunate part is that not one of the expert-amateurs seems to have given much thought to what MOOCs imply: that teachers are unnecessary. MOOCs don’t use teachers; they have curriculum designers and they have video presenters. Actors are the best for that latter role, seriously.
“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it,” McCrory said. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
Again, I’d personally be very surprised if those gender studies classes weren’t paying for themselves and more.
* The wisdom of the market, in all its glorious efficiency: Confessions of a corporate spy.
* Over the last three months wind farms produced more electricity than any other power source in Spain for the first time ever, an industry group has said. To steal a line from Twitter: oh, if only we had wind!
ES: There’s a particular quote that I’ve seen as signatures in military forums or quoted, and for some reason military members identify it. That’s Tigh’s New Caprica silioquoy: “Which side are we on? We’re on the side of the demons, chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.” Why do you think that quote resonates with veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq in particular?
Parts 3 and 4 coming soon.
* The latest from Randall Munroe’s “What If?”: Will the Internet ever surpass FedEx’s bandwidth? What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies? What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool?
* Special pleading watch: nearly all of the 600 recess appointments since the Reagan presidency would have been nullified if the hyperformalist interpretation applied to Barack Obama were applied universally.
* Some local pride! Milwaukee in top ten list for best urban forests.
* My particular demographic: Study Finds Vegetarians Will Live Longer, Are Boring.
McCrory echoed a crack the radio show host made at gender studies courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, a top tier public university. “That’s a subsidized course,” McCrory said, picking up the argument. “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
I’m certain that those classes more than pay for themselves, as the humanities always do.
* Damn you, President Romney! Office Working to Close Guantánamo Is Shuttered.
* A 15-year-old girl who performed at President Obama’s inauguration last week was shot dead Tuesday while hanging out with friends in bullet-scarred Chicago. Meet The 9 Year-Old Girl Who Likely Would Be Alive Today If High-Capacity Magazines Were Illegal. Gaby Giffords’s notes for her testimony before Congress; the video is amazing. There was a mass shooting during her testimony.
* This is what happens when you give people license to unleash their Inner Authoritarian, when you encourage them in thinking that the arbitrary enforcement of irrational codes of behavior designed to keep a labor force unpaid that is making you billions of dollars are somehow on an equal footing with actual criminal and civil law.
* A newly elected Ohio Supreme Court justice who achieved the unlikely feat of ousting an incumbent without accepting any campaign contributions is not wasting any time in asserting his opposition to the death penalty.
* Frank R. Paul art gallery. Yes please.
* A website for the US judicial system states that jurors are “not expected to speak perfect English”: Cat ordered to do jury service.
* It is often claimed that renewables are still too costly and not yet competitive with conventional energy sources. But what costs are incurred when renewable energies are not used? Every day during which potential renewable energy sources are not utilised but exhaustible fossil fuels burnt instead speeds up the depletion of these non-renewable fuels. Using burnt fossil fuels for nonenergy related purposes (e.g. in the petro-chemical industry) in the future is obviously impossible. Thus, their burning – whenever they could have been replaced by renewables – is costly capital destruction. This study concludes that, estimated conservatively, the future usage loss resulting from our current oil, gas and coal consumption is between 3.2 and 3.4 trillion US Dollars per year.
* You are living in a simulation: New $1.6 billion supercomputer project will attempt to simulate the human brain.
* A Russian family that disappeared into the Siberian wilderness in 1936 and had no contact with other people for more than 40 years.
* And an epic game of tag that has been going on for 23 years.
* Bernard Pollard doesn’t think the NFL will exist in 30 years… because it’s just becoming too darn safe.
* Wisconsin officials tout the UW Flexible Option as the first to offer multiple, competency-based bachelor’s degrees from a public university system. Officials encourage students to complete their education independently through online courses, which have grown in popularity through efforts by companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity. No classroom time is required under the Wisconsin program except for clinical or practicum work for certain degrees.
* Also in local news: Milwaukee sheriff says the police won’t protect you, so get a gun.
* And with each new technology, the same hyperbole, the same evangelism. On-line education is great. MOOC is a wonderful concept. But most of the institutions in the world that are over 400 years old are universities and there is a reason for that. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the impending demise of the traditional university may be much exaggerated.
* This is where gun advocacy ends: not with a right to bear arms, but with an insistence that the rest of us have an obligation to do so. In the name of a misreading of the Second Amendment, teachers and children are conscripted in a gunfight. A movement that frames its cause as liberty imposes fear, and service only to the gun.
* Srinivas Aravamudan, Julia Lupton and David Palumbo-Liu on Blow Up The Humanities. The basic premise of the book seems pretty wildly faulty, but then like Srinivas most of my experience is with Duke.
* The hell? A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday. The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.
Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.
The law, in its magnificent equality, allows straight men to fire men and women alike because of their sexual irresistibility…
* ”We always talk about Johana, about how she was”: Argentine woman to marry twin sister’s killer.