How the American University Was Killed

In “How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps,” Debra Leigh Scott observes the following five trends: (1) defunding of public education, (2) de-professionalizing of professoriate, (3) rise of administrative class, (4) rise of corporate culture and money, and (5) destruction of students through both lowering standards as well as raising costs of university. The result is “low wage migrant professors teach repetitive courses they did not design to students who travel through on a kind of conveyor belt, only to be spit out, indebted and desperate into a jobless economy.”

More Counting of English Majors

I think [Alex Reid][] has it right in terms of how to phrase the question about what is happening with undergraduate education in general and in humanities (read English here) majors in particular:

> Yes, it is bogus to look at the large numbers in the late 60s, note the decline in English, and say this proves we are doing something wrong. But it is also bogus to look at the lower numbers from the late 40s or 50s and suggest that what we have seen since is a regression to the mean. Instead, we might start by saying that the idea of having a college major barely existed a century ago. It’s a little amusing to consider how the 1880s to 1910s paralleled our current period in terms of a rapidly expanding student base and changing values for going to college (then, like now, it was all about getting a better job in a new economy). The thing is, the contemporary English major grew out of that historical moment. And in the 1950s, when higher education was born again, English expanded with it. But as everyone points out, that popularity was fleeting.

> I suppose one can look at those statistics and take it as evidence that the humanities can continue to trundle along as it has for the last 30 years or so. I will stick by my argument that the second industrial revolution, which spurred the growth of higher education, and created a foundation for the value of the print literacy that English has historically provided, has been supplanted by new economic engines. We shouldn’t be looking at the 1950s. We should be looking at the 1850s. From 1850 to 1920, the role of rhetoric and literary study in American universities was completed transformed because of the economic effects of the industrial revolution. Might the same be said of the shift from 1950-2020?

Reid’s basic assertion is that observers are quibbling over where to paint the playing field lines when we should be looking at the construction of the stadium. (The sports metaphor surprises me as much as anyone else reading this.) The fact is that there is a much larger transformation taking place in education, especially higher education, and we need to be thinking about it not only tactically but also strategically.

My own thoughts have mostly focused on tactics: let’s engage the current developments in various professions that highlight the role of information technologies to make sure not just our majors but students in general can glimpse, and possibly create/develop/maintain/revise, the connections between the codes and structures they encounter and the kinds of codes and structures that have long been the purview of the humanities in general and literary studies in particular.

I want to state that again: it’s not just about majors but about humanists making a valuable contribution to education in general. This might seem short-sighted in the face of myopic administrators who can’t see past counting heads, but I think we should keep our eyes on the bigger prize and on the larger mission: being a part of a collaborative that gives students the ideas, facts, concepts, and methods they need to create a place for themselves in the world, and in doing so, makes the world a more interesting, free, and safe place for everyone.

[Alex Reid]: http://alex-reid.net/2013/06/what-counts-when-counting-english-majors.html

In Defense of the Liberal Arts

Carol Geary Schneider has an [essay][] in _Inside Higher Ed_ which offers a defense of the liberal arts. Her essay is in response to the extension of the Republican attack on the liberal arts to the social sciences. All of this is done in the spirit of focusing government-supported education on the labor market. You know, only make what sells. How Republicans manage to want to focus on STEM while at the same time trying to rip the heart out of science by undermining evolution, climate science, and anything else that somehow offends their very limited understanding of the Bible escapes me.

What makes it worse is that here in Louisiana our university administrations seem only to happy to echo everything said by policy makers. And so the trickle down effect is that national-level groups lead these efforts by focusing on state-level changes — this is, after all, the strategy for success used by Republicans for congressional re-districting. In Louisiana, this means the supervising boards parrot what the legislature says; university administrations parrot what the board says; and then one gets to see individual university administrators say much the same thing.

Folks, I was in business when *value-added* became popular. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. The idea was in response to a very particular moment in the history of American corporations. Really, history matters. (And I say that on the eve of our local historians giving up on history.)

[essay]: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/02/08/essay-house-republican-leaders-attack-social-science-research

Universities Are Copy Machines

In case you missed it, [Siva Vaidhyanathan](http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2012/10/12/universities-are-vast-copy-machines-and-thats-a-good-thing/) has a nice post up on CHE about the role of copying in universities. Copying as a necessary good. It’s in the context of the recent ruling in favor of the HathiTrust.

What would life be like [if I worked at Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University][kfu]?

[kfu]: http://chronicle.com/jobs/0000733762-01

[This news from the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate](http://theadvocate.com/home/1678148-125/higher-ed-cuts-going-deeper.html) is troubling not only because it is additional cuts in an already pretty bleak landscape for higher education in Louisiana but because it’s the first the faculty at UL have heard about it, so far as I know. Our administration is really good at communicating about Christmas parties, but not so good at communicating news about the business of the university itself.

And the loss to the library is catastrophic. It is already the case that we haven’t seen any serious book acquisitions in six years — yes, **six years** — but this kind of cut will probably begin to cut into digital acquisitions like JSTOR and Project Muse which, for some, is the only remaining connection to the larger sphere of science and scholarship outside those things which we acquire ourselves. And since a number of faculty have not seen any serious pay increases since 2005, that money too is drying up.

Humanities and the Library

Jean-Claude Guédon made the following observation in The Humanist mailing list with regards to open access matters;

Researchers may be very busy, but they still need to pay attention to their working environment. Scientists should pay attention to the
quality of their instruments, and they generally do; humanists are
certainly interested in the wealth and depth of their library, which is
an infrastructure, and if they complain about the lack of journals,
etc., they might consider looking a little further than the usual
complaint to the librarian who, too often, is simply deemed to be either
insensitive or incompetent, or both, plus being bureaucratic, etc… If
journals are missing in the library, a quick check on library budgets
and their evolution might be profitably compared to the evolution of
subscription prices for journals, particularly STM journals. They might
then consider that, given the priorities of modern universities,
humanities journals will be given up in order to free money for STM
journals. Then, humanists might begin to wonder why some commercial
publishers need to make profit at the tune of 35-45% before taxes.

Researchers are not just researchers; they are also citizens. Public
money goes into supporting research, lots of it. Why the published
results of research should be so expensive when the manuscripts have
been given away to publishers for free, when publishers have us peer
review the articles again for free, etc. ? These are the  very questions
that triggered the Public Library of Science when it was still nothing
more than a worldwide petition back in 2001. They are still with us.
They may trouble the quiet aire of delightful studies, but that is an
elitist attitude that seems to claim that some of us are entitled to
unlimited (subsidized) access to information without having to reflect
on the economic conditions that begin to make this privilege a reality.

Exactly. When humanists turn their back on the world, they shouldn’t be surprised when the world turns its back on them. I worry that it may be too late to halt this particular swing of the pendulum from arcing, depressingly, further out.

What we should be doing is campaigning for our libraries.