Category Archives: College / University News

Marketplace of Ideas

Here’s a book review by Gideon Lewis-Kraus: “The Opening of the Academic Mind: How to Rescue the Professoriate from Professionalization.” It’s about the book The Marketplace of Ideas by Louis Menand, but it is interesting on its own.

Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas

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Is Higher Education For Everyone?

I just read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about college professors becoming distressed when their kids didn’t want to go to college and/or didn’t succeed in college.

This coincides with a conversation I’ve been having with my students this semester about college sports. After reading Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side, in which some athletes bend the rules in order to go to college, and others work the system to have the easiest education possible. In one particularly sad scene, more than a dozen senior football players at Ole Miss walk off the field after their last game and right off campus–forever. Getting a degree is clearly meaningless to these players. So I asked my students, Why should athletes have to go to college in order to play in NFL? Most of them were adamant that the current system of trading tuition for athletic ability is fair. But I can’t help but wonder, if the students aren’t getting anything out of their college education, why not pay them to play and instead of forcing them to attend classes?

I loved college, and I want everyone in America to be able to experience it. Like many college graduates, I got a lot more out of school than the opportunities the degree offered–lifelong friendships, inspiring mentors, experiencing life in a city for the first time, and the ability to feed my curiosity about a variety of subjects.

At the same time, there’s some people in my life who have shown me that college is not for everyone. My friend J. works in the educational field, of all places, and she’s only halfway through college, which she’s been attending sporadically for years. A family member, B., has hated reading and school his whole life. Without a clear sense of how getting a degree would help him fulfill a particular goal, he couldn’t motivate himself to keep attending school. These two people are smart, committed to their own happiness, and they care about the state of the world. They want to make money and be secure. Another family member, V., never went to college, became a plumber, and made enough money to buy a house far before my college-educated husband and I could afford one. Another friend, F., dropped out of school over a decade ago and came back to finish his degree when he was emotionally ready and financially motivated. He did great, and is enjoying life in the white collar world now that he’s finished. But he did it on his own time.

I’m sitting here in New York, talking to my chef brother-in-law Dan, and he said he didn’t regret going to college, even though his art history major didn’t directly apply to his career, he valued his education, his relationships, and his first experiences living with people other than his parents. Still, his career wasn’t necessarily enhanced.

As people who’ve pursued education to the nth degree, it can be hard not to judge those who don’t like or aren’t fulfilled by formal education. As my husband said, “not doing well in school is not the same as sucking at life.” Us doctors and future doctors do well to remember that.

Scholarly Publishing

Bill Harnum, formerly of the University of Toronto Press, breaks down the issues of university press publishing.

Graduate School and Mental Health

In some ways, I’ve had it better than most in graduate school. It wasn’t until well into my seventh year that I had this thought: I am too stupid to be here. Until then, I had always maintained that anyone with the desire could be a doctor.

Since I’ve had the thought, it’s been hard to shake. Before that moment I had never felt too stupid for anything. I loved school and always did well, and I was given a lot of credit for being smart by those around me. I knew some people in graduate school felt inadequate, and I felt sorry for them because I was sure their problem was a lack of confidence and not a lack of ability. I felt fortunate for my own sense of self-worth.

Grad-School Blues,” a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, cited a 2004 study that revealed 54% of graduate students suffered from depression severe enough to interfere with their ability to work. Compare that to 9.5% of Americans suffering from depression in a typical year.

Writing a dissertation can be seen as an empowering act: an individual relies mostly on him or herself to complete a long, intellectual piece of work. In practice, however, graduate students can feel very powerless, at the mercy of university politics, their supervisor, or their department’s expectations.

The article cites Gregory Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell, who explains that grad students don’t typically participate in many social activities such as clubs or intramural sports. Graduate students who are socially isolated may be less likely to know about resources available to them.

Besides counseling, getting a dissertation coach, participating in online discussions about graduate school, or joining a writing group can be helpful. Practicing yoga, meditation, or a religion can also help keep the dissertation in perspective.

One doctor who had left academia was quoted in the article: “There’s this perception that if you hold your breath and make it through, you’ll be fine,” she says. But if you don’t deal with such issues, she says, “you will not be an effective student, scholar, or researcher.”

When I read “Grad-School Blues,” I thought, this is the reason I’m writing my blog. I believe it’s a bad idea to simply try to fake smartness and confidence in your academic life. We should be willing to discuss therapy and strategies for working and living–if not with out superiors, at least with our colleagues. Our health depends on it.

The Future of the Field

I just finished reading Education in the Balance, a somewhat disturbing study about jobs in English.

The report mentioned a phenomenon common in many fields: the division of academic departments into research faculty (who teach mostly graduate students if they teach at all) and teaching faculty (who teach lower-division classes and have little pressure to publish).

It makes me sad, because in my first semester at Boston University I had awesome teachers who were tenure-track. I wish more college students had the opportunities I had there. I was so stimulated by my classes.

On a more practical level, though, it’s important as a graduate student to know where one’s allegiance lies. When I first started, I believed that teaching was the most important thing to me, and research was just a hoop to jump through on the way to that goal. Somewhere along the line (shortly after teaching my first class as the instructor of record) I became passionate about my research and a bit skittish about teaching. Seven years in, I’m not sure where I stand.

These are hard questions, and none of us knows what opportunitites the future may bring. Still, it’s good to imagine what we want. Part-time work teaching composition (at a salary less than I’m making now as a graduate student) is not the only option. Some of us may even have to leave academia to find jobs where we are highly valued. I think that’s something we should all be ready for, because it’s certainly true that not all professor jobs are created equal.

Female Professors At UT-Austin Earn $9,000 Less Than Males Professors

Female Professors at UT-Austin earn $9,000 less than their male colleagues.

When I read the headline, I immediately pictured my least favorite teacher in the English department (male) and my most favorite teacher in the English department (female) and fumed at the injustice.

But it’s not that simple. Professors’ salaries are based on a variety of factors–some are negotiated, some have to do with spousal hires. Salaries are based, to varying degrees, on job performance.

All of the graduate students in my department make the same amount of money, and it is awesome. We still have enough insecurities to go around, but at least they aren’t exacerbated by suspected or actual financial disparities.

I wish it were socially acceptable to ask potential colleagues bluntly how much money they make. It seems to me that less secrecy would lead to more fairness. It’s hard to trust the university to look out for our best interests, and it’s hard for us to know if we are being treated justly.

Forget Journals.

Should scholarly publications be free?

They are debating this topic at Harvard right now.  How does this affect the publish-or-perish system?  Would it be good for everyone, or just force scholars to plod through more badly written and badly edited stuff in order to do research?