Or, I could blame “lower ed” . . .

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Getting to Green

It's probably a little bit (but only a little bit) unfair of me to lay blame for the cultural immaturity that is consumerism at the door of American higher education.  After all, most of the behaviors and expectations that prevent children (consumers) from becoming adults (citizens) are established well before entry to college or university.

Some of it, of course, comes directly from advertising.  One of the lessons I taught my kids early on was that commercials are lies.  All of them.  Some are big lies, some are smaller lies, but none of them tell the truth.  A bit later, I taught them the corollary that advertising is proof that most grown-ups will lie for money, and that even more grown-ups are willing to be lied to if money is involved.  All my kids grew up to be skeptics, and each of them has a well-developed capacity for cynicism.  (I have no idea why.)

With the amount of TV most American kids watch before they even enter pre-school, the groundwork for consumerism has clearly been laid.  With the proliferation of cable channels targeted specifically at kids — all the way down to toddlers — it can be laid more efficiently and effectively than ever before.  Nothing like advertising to unformed minds in images and simple terms/concepts that they can relate to.  Heck, if you can get the concept of "McDonalds" or Cocoa Puffs firmly rooted before the more general concept of "food" is fully established . . .

But the truth of the matter is that most early schooling — heck, most schooling at any level — reinforces submission to authority (including the spurious authority which is the mainstream media) rather than teaching resistance to it.  The earliest task of public schooling is to socialize students.  Public teachers at all levels who succeed are ones who master classroom management (read: discipline and the constant inducement of submission).  Typical pedagogy reinforces subservience to textbooks, to testing protocols, and to the premise that what's being taught is what it's important to know.  The authority of the information, the validity of the tests, the importance or even relevance of the specific material covered — no teacher who regularly undercut any of these implicit messages would likely remain employed.

Additionally, typical pedagogy teaches individualism.  Group projects are the exception, not the rule, in most classrooms.  Solidarity among students would be many teachers' (and even a higher percentage of principals') worst nightmare.  Pour the knowledge into the individual, test what knowledge is retained by the individual, reinforce the separate identity of each student.  "Divide and conquer" is a common tactic in schoolrooms.  Unfortunately, it means that high schools graduate students who think of themselves as divided and expect to be conquered.  What more could a market campaign designer hope for?  (This is one area in which home-schooled kids may have a leg up on the typical public-school product.  Of course, many of them have even more so been divided/set apart and conquered in other areas of their cultural lives.  Sigh . . .)

So is it fair to expect higher ed to, even partially, reverse or offset the implicit cultural messages with which are incoming students have been deeply imbued?  Perhaps not fair, but necessary.  After all, if not us . . . who?  The transition from high school to college/university at least offers a juncture at which significant change in attitude and awareness might be introduced.  One expectation of incoming first-year students is that college will be different and, in some ways, it is.  But the inherent authority of the textbook and the emphasis on the individual (now seen as a consumer of education) persists.  Questioning of the system, or of the societal norms it reproduces, is hardly encouraged in most undergrad curricula.  Indeed, it's relatively rarely encouraged even in grad schools.

Of course, if teachers and principals would be threatened by consciousness and solidarity in public school students — most of whom still live at home and thereby are at least minimally subject to parental influence — just think how much more professors and deans of students would be threatened by the same in a population that has (commonly) just moved out of the parental home and might well be toying with rebellion.  Moreover, as part of institutional attempts to promote successful transition and increase student (particularly first-year) retention rates, a lot of effort goes into making sure that the college/university experience isn't too different from what the kids are used to.

But . . . if we keep doing what we're currently doing, we're going to keep getting what we're currently getting.  The graduates we turn out are well-conditioned to their role as consumers.  And consumerism has aspects that are very unhealthy for the economy, the environment, and democracy.  The net effect of all our little tactics, seen at a macro-level, seems to be more destructive of a healthy society that reproductive of it.

Maybe institutions of higher ed can influence the pedagogy and practices of universal public education — after all, that's precisely what happened a century ago.  The standard mix of high school subjects became standardized based on expressed requirements for admission to college or university.  If we (particularly the most prestigious of us) shift what we're looking for in applicants, high schools will (over time) shift what they emphasize in their graduates.  Inquisitiveness can be fostered but, at present, it's not seen as a priority.

Sad, that.  But maybe it goes a way to explaining how a nation which idealizes the decisive independent individual more and more consists of self-declared individuals whose main experience of 'personal freedom' seems to be reflexively making exactly the same (market-constrained, marketing-instilled) choices as everyone around them.

Society is not — all of us collectively are not — benefiting from the collective impact of those choices.  We need to learn to choose better. 

Anybody know a teacher?


Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


How It Sounds

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Confessions of a Community College Dean

Sometimes it’s the offhand comments that tell you the most.

In a conversation a few days ago, some thoughtful faculty noted in passing that the state’s constant drumbeat about job placement and STEM fields — two different things, btw — was becoming a factor in faculty morale in the humanities and social sciences. They heard every invocation of college-as-personnel-office as an attack on what they do, and as a harbinger of even-more-diminished resources to come.

I couldn’t blame them, really.  Budgets are tight, new state and federal money (when it exists) tends to go to more favored areas, and it’s not hard to read the public mood.  

As someone who has attended more Employer Advisory Boards than is probably healthy, I can attest that much of the “;practical-versus-pure” dichotomy is overdrawn, if not simply false.  But the political rhetoric is pushing in one direction, so some folks — understandably, if unhelpfully — are compelled to push back in the other, thereby implying that the terms of the discussion are correct.  If I could, I’d love to convene some much larger Employer Advisory Boards and invite both politicians and the English department to observe silently.

Even in our most baldly vocational programs, employers consistently make it clear that their greatest need, and disappointment, with new employees is with the soft skills.  Even in technical areas, we hear consistently that anyone who wants to move above the entry level needs to have good communication skills, good workplace savvy, and a basic sense of numeracy.  The employers are still willing to do a certain amount of training on their own specific systems; what they want from us is people are who have the skills to be trainable and employable.

In their more thoughtful moments, I’ve heard politicians acknowledge that.  But in the heat of legislative battle, such counterintuitive truths don’t get heard.  Instead, we fall into stereotypes of “;ivory tower” academics not preparing students for the “;real world,” and we believe somehow that if we could just reduce education to training, everything would be fine.

It doesn’t work like that.  It has never worked like that.

The relevant question is not whether we should fund, say, chemistry, as opposed to sociology.  (Last week, the Freakonomics folks — whose readers tend to have economics backgrounds — did a poll asking which social sciences should die.  Shockingly, economists didn’t choose economics.)  That’s the wrong question at the systemic level.  (It can be the right question on individual campuses, but that’s another issue.)  Both majors can produce thoughtful people who have something to offer, and both can produce drones.  And especially in the first two years of college, it makes sense for students to have at least some exposure to each discipline, or at least to similar ones.

At its core, some very smart economists say, the jobs crisis is not primarily about having too many sociology majors.  It’s about having a too-skewed distribution of wealth, a too-powerful financial services industry, and too many people making life choices that any competent sociologist could tell you don’t lead to good outcomes.  I’m much more worried about college dropouts — especially those with heavy loan payments — than I am about graduates with degrees in comparative literature.  

Historically, the liberal arts grads have struggled somewhat to get the first real job, but have done quite well for themselves once they’ve made their way in.  They just need that first foot in the door, which is a tall order during a nasty recession.  But let’s not confuse the effects of the nasty recession with the value of the liberal arts education.  And even more importantly, let’s not make the mistake of purging the “;gen ed” courses from the technical and vocational fields.  Technical firms need managers too, and those managers will need to be able to understand people, write and speak well, and make decisions with limited and flawed information.  

Attacking the humanists is not going to solve the recession.  It simply is not.  If the employers with whom I speak are to be believed, that’s the last thing we should do.  Short-term training is, at best, a short-term solution; if we really want long-term prosperity, we need people who bring the whole package.  That means recognizing English and history and, yes, sociology as integral parts of our mission.  The answer isn’t to hit back with the virtues of irrelevance; it’s to affirm the relevance of the educational core.  We need people who know enough to listen to the offhand remarks.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Lastest Should I Get A Phd News

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

Babu G. Sundar, Ph.D. Appointed Principal Investigator for Lightwave Logic, Inc.
You can identify these statements by use of the words "may," "will," "should," "plans," "explores," "expects," "anticipates," "continue," "estimate," "project," "intend," and similar expressions. Forward-looking statements …. Find 'n' Save Daily Deal …
Read more on Sacramento Bee

Junior Seau's Brain and the Mind of the NFL
… in their brain functioning. We now know sophisticated imaging technologies are available which can detect these changes. … Lloyd Glauberman, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, Hypno-technologist. GET UPDATES FROM Lloyd Glauberman, Ph.D. Like. 29 …
Read more on Huffington Post (blog)

The Doctorate Debate
The gist being: Should PAs get a doctorate degree and if so why and when? It was enlightening because it was an open microphone session and I heard a half dozen perspectives from PAs, some with doctorates and some without. I entered this discussion …
Read more on ADVANCE for Physician Assistants (blog)


Lastest Nonacademic Careers News

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Career Planning

Mitch Daniels Protested As Purdue University's Next President By Students
"It's a travesty for a nonacademic to head a great research university," Haring told WISH-TV. Over the weekend, Haring joined a group of around 75 …. Boren does very well in the fundraising part of his job. Daniels has an undergrad degree from …
Read more on Huffington Post

Guide to choosing a local high school
“It means there's a nice blend of academic and non-academic programming,” explained Brenda Sautner, associate superintendent with the Fort McMurray Public School District. … “We've tried to change our focus to become a science and technology and …
Read more on Fort McMurray Today

More education does not make you more employable
Anna Bellamy-McIntyre's (HES, June 20) situation is similar to my own, but what response does Australia offer those humanities postgraduates who can neither find a job in universities nor are welcomed by the secondary education sector? … If you …
Read more on The Australian


Lastest Why Phd News

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in General

PhD at U of T will adhere to Olympic competitors for downtown Toronto resident
OLYMPICS – Downtown Donna Vakalis is heading off to this summer season&#39s London Olympics, which runs July 27 to Aug. 12.
Study much more on Kawartha Media Group

Romania PM to forfeit PhD if faulted in plagiarism probe
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta explained Tuesday he was willing to forfeit his PhD if he is discovered at fault by an ethics watchdog in excess of accusations that he plagiarised large chunks of his thesis.
Examine far more on Phys.Org


US recession&#39s other victim: public universities

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Career Planning

US recession's other victim: public universities
Despite more than $ 235 million in spending cuts and cost-saving measures to non-academic areas since 2004 — ranging from limiting the colors of Post-it notes to installing dual flush toilets to save water — the University of Michigan is fortunate …
Read more on Reuters

Compulsory maths lessons until 18 would be a miscalculation
We absolutely need a mathematically literate cohort of school graduates to fill university places and technical jobs, but this is not solved by forcing everyone to study maths. It's important to ask which are the pupils who will be most affected by …
Read more on EducationGuardian.co.uk


Thinking about Coursera’s Growth

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Hack (Higher) Education

The online education platform Coursera announced today that 12 more universities had signed on as partners, joining the 4 that were part of the startup’s launch in April. Joining the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, University of Michigan and Stanford are Georgia Tech, Duke University, University of Washington, Caltech, Rice University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, EPFL – Lausanne (Switzerland), Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health), UCSF, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Virginia.

That last university is a particularly interesting one, considering the role that MOOCs played in the ouster of UVA president Teresa Sullivan by its Board of Visitors. The decision-making at UVA is the focus of much of Inside Higher Ed’s Steve Kolowich’s article on today’s news. Kolowich chronicles the negotiations among UVA deans, faculty members and Coursera, noting the irony that these discussions were ongoing as the BOV fired Sullivan for failing to have an adequate response to their questions about the university’s plans to respond to the Stanford-model MOOCs. The plans are clear now: join the Coursera platform.

The rapid expansion of Coursera’s partners, along with the equity investment made by two of them, certainly suggests that many institutions are preparing to face what the New York Times’ David Brooks called the “;campus tsunami.” Initially, Coursera had to woo schools and professors; now schools and professors are approaching Coursera, which offers universities its technology and expertise in teaching and grading “;at scale.” And while this might demonstrate what Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng told me -; that “;MOOCs are not a passing fad” -; it’s not clear yet how MOOCs will evolve as they expand to new disciplines and new universities and/or how these MOOCs will change higher education in turn.

It’s the latter that seems to elicit the most excitement and concern. Georgia Tech computer science professor Mark Guzdial has shared the email that faculty received there announcing its partnership with Coursera. In it, Provost Rafael Bras offers reassurance that “;we are not abandoning our central mission of residential undergraduate instruction. In fact, we view this as an opportunity to remain true to our pledge to define the technological research university of the 21st century by exploring new modes of instruction and operation. What we learn from the Coursera and other similar experiments will above all benefit our own students and strengthen our existing programs.”

That echoes how Ng and his co-founder Daphne Koller describe Coursera as creating a “;better education for everyone.” When I spoke to the duo when Coursera launched, Koller said that the creation of these online courses will make for robust and active learning experiences on campus. There is a “;growing amount of content out there on the Web,” she said, and “;the value proposition for the university isn’t getting the content out there but rather the personal interaction between faculty and students and students and students.”

That is part of the value proposition of the residential campus experience, I’d argue. When I asked Ng about the impetus behind these universities’ signing up for Coursera, he said that both faculty and administration were pushing for it. But students at these universities, not so much. That’s not to say that students in general aren’t interested in the free online classes -; Coursera boasts 1.5 million course enrollments by over 680,000 students. But these students aren’t necessarily that same population served by a residential campus. (According to demographics from Ng’s Machine Learning class offered last fall, only about 11% were in undergraduate degree programs.) In The New York Times today, University of Michigan (and Coursera) professor Scott Page says, “;There’s talk about how online education’s going to wipe out universities, but a lot of what we do on campus is help people transition from 18 to 22, and that is a complicated thing,.” He adds that MOOCs would be most helpful to “;people 22 to 102, international students and smart retired people.”

Who’s being “;helped” here is a crucial consideration -; for institutions, for faculty (both research and instructional faculty), for enrolled students and for learners everywhere.

A few lingering questions:

  • How will the University of Washington’s plans to offer credit for its Coursera classes work? (And related: how will concerns about online cheating be addressed? Udacity partnered with Pearson for this.)
  • How will a partnership with Coursera change universities’ other online course offerings? (These universities and other universities, pre-existing and planned programs, and particularly for-credit ones)
  • How will the peer grading work? (History professor Jonathan Rees raises questions about how well students will be able to evaluate one another’s assignments.)
  • With all these online lecture-based course options, whither the offline lecture-based course offerings? And how will funding models have to change for universities if students opt to learn “;elsewhere” for these credits?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Taking into consideration options

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Getting to Green

Recently, I was talking to a friend of the family.  A middle-aged woman with a PhD, she's fluent in three languages and has spent a reasonable portion of her life in Europe.

One question that came up was why, in certain countries, people might be disallowed from spending their own money to buy health care that the relevant national health care system might deem to be unnecessary or of low priority.

The basic premise underlying that question, of course, is that people who have sufficient money should be able to spend it on anything they choose.  It's a pretty common premise, particularly in this country.  But it's not completely true.

When some function is seen as critical to the functioning of society, the application of money to advantage one individual over another is no longer seen as consumer choice, it's seen as corruption.  People shouldn't be able to spend money to get better treatment from the justice system.  They shouldn't be able to spend money (at least, not directly) to influence people when they're in the voting booth.  And they shouldn't be able to buy legislation (again, at least not directly). 

Physical security and equal treatment before the law is something a just society provides.  Universal education is something a just (and wise, and capable) society provides.  And, for the citizens of most developed countries, health care is something their society (just) provides.  Some of those countries have decided that allowing private money (and private providers) to enter the health care market is as corrupting as allowing bribery of police or judges or legislators.  As Hannah Arendt said, "Society is the form in which the fact of mutual dependence for the sake of life and nothing else assumes public significance."  Health care would seem to qualify.

My concern is not that this woman (a US citizen) doesn't have universally-available health insurance.  (Her husband is a federal retiree; health insurance isn't a problem for them.)  Nor do I worry that, in spite of having traveled and lived extensively in countries with universal health care she still doesn't understand how it works or how it affects social dynamics.  My concern is that she seems typical of so many Americans who appear unable to imagine any situation other than the one in which they currently find themselves.  No health care finance system other than the one we have (except, perhaps, the one we had before the Affordable Care Act was passed).  No education system other than the one we have.  No legislative system other than the one we have.  No military other than the one we have.  No economic system other than the one we have.

Have we created a generation or three with no real sense of possibility?  And if we (society) have, how much of the damage has been done by those of us in education?


Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


six Approaches the iPhone Altered Larger Ed

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

Technology and Learning

This past Friday was the 5th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. Over at the NYTimes Bits blog Brian Chen, author of Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future — and Locked Us In, has some observations about how the iPhone changed phone and software industries. 

The way to think about the iPhone in relation to higher ed is less as a single product but a new product category. This category, which includes Android/Google and maybe eventually the Windows 8 phones, equals smart phone plus an app ecosystem.  The carriers (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T etc.) remain a critical (as they own the cellular network), but annoying component of this ecosystem. Annoying because their voice/data pricing plans are only getting more expensive, restrictive and confusing as the hardware and software on smartphones improves exponentially each year. Any impact that the iPhone and its cousins achieve in higher ed will be in spite of, rather than because, the big cellular companies that we all must endure.

How has the iPhone changed higher ed?

1. A Glimpse Into A Mobile Learning Future: The iPhone has allowed us to clearly peer in our learning future, and that future is mobile. The only limitation will be that processing power, storage and software will improve faster than our ability to re-engineer learning tools around the mobile form factor. What would an LMS (learning management system) designed from scratch for Apple's iOS and Google's Android look like? Can we imagine virtual synchronous classroom/meeting tools such as Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate look like with a native mobile design?). The iPhone screen seems plenty big enough, the rate-limiting step of the iPhone as a learning platform seems to be the keyboard. Mobile devices are great for content consumption, not so wonderful for creation (and education depends on creation). Despite the challenges, it seems clear that the ubiquitousness nature (always with us, always connected) of the iPhone type device will make mobile the primary platform for 21st century learning. We are evolving to a place where our mobiles are extensions of ourselves, our outboard brains and always at hand communications and entertainment devices. Where gaming and social media and communication go, education will soon follow.

2. The Apps vs. Browser Debate: To a great and growing extent education is already mediated through technology. We interact with our fellow students, professors, and course content via software. This software is moving from our computers to our smart phones (and tablets). The question is, how what form will this software take? Will it be delivered through the browser or an app? Perhaps the browser/app debate will soon fade, as native apps become web apps – simple shells around browser based content and data exchange. The desire to avoid the expense and complication of coding separate apps for each platform (iOS, Android) and for the Web is understandable. I'm unconvinced, however, that this approach will provide us with high quality mobile (and mobile educational) experiences. The gold standard for apps in my experience is the NYTimes and Amazon Kindle iPhone app. These apps are easy to navigate, sync automatically, and work offline. Reading a book with the Kindle app or news through the NYTimes app causes the device to recede into the background. I don't know of any education app that performs as well as these two examples, and I have a hard time believing that when that app comes it will not be a native mobile app.   

3. The Mobile Services Imperative: Every college and university feels the pressure to mobilize our web content. All the work we have done in the past 20 or so years to get our higher ed content and services to the web seems inadequate if this same content and services are not available for smart phones. Where we are going to get the resources to bring everything we do on the web to the mobile screen is a reasonable question. The web work will not go away (it will expand), and the pull to mobile will only get stronger. Will web sites designed with RWD (responsive web design) techniques be robust enough to perform on iPhones at the level that our students, faculty, staff, alumni, potential students expect? Can we avoid coding around native apps, and instead go with a write-once display everywhere web app strategy, allow us to move rapidly and cost-effectively enough into our mobile campus future?

4. Device Proliferation and Support Challenges: Campus technology services and campus applications now need to work with both computers and mobile devices. Do you have an easy way that your students, faculty and staff can get their iPhones on your secure wireless network, your printing and application authentication systems? What devices will you support in your student help desk? How far will you go to help your professors troubleshoot their mobile devices? What training, advice, and support will you offer instructors on incorporating mobile phones into teaching?    

5. A BRIC Education Growth Roadmap: The BRICS are Brazil, Russia, India and China – they are the fast growing emerging economies with huge populations and a rapidly increasing role in global trade, manufacturing, services and consumption. We could (and should) spend lots of time thinking about the opportunity to export US higher education to the BRICS, and to grow the footprint of our educational technology and educational publishing companies in these countries.   As the action in higher education moves from the already wealthy to the growth economies (the BRICs and beyond … such as South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and Nigeria), the mediating technology will be the mobile device. The BRICS largely skipped over landline technology, jumping directly to cellular phones. The demand for educational services at every level will be way larger than traditional place based (campus based) institutions could ever provide.  Education will be mobile. Campuses will still be built, but the great volume of educational interactions will take place on the mobile phone.

6. The Disappointment of Unrealized Mobile Education Potential: The final way that the iPhone has changed higher ed over the past 5 years is the degree to which the iPhone has not changed higher ed. The mobile education hype has outpaced the mobile education reality. Smart phone education applications and service continue to be an appendage to those designed for the web.  We lag behind in delivering our students the course, library, and campus services and content that they want on their mobile devices.  We have very little understanding of how we can incorporate these handheld mobile computers into our teaching. And from what I can tell, Apple, Google or Microsoft have not made education a core part of their long-term mobile strategies.    

What would you add to this list of how the iPhone changed higher  ed?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


“Hear the students’ voices swelling. Powerful and true and clear. . .”

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U


Myra Ann Houser is a doctoral candidate in African History at Howard University in Washington, DC. She blogs about the dissertation-writing process, current events, life in Washington, DC, and related issues at myraramblings.wordpress.com and tweets as @myramt.

In the spring of 2008 I stood on the lawn in front of the president’s house at the College of William and Mary with a group of undergraduates, fellow graduate students, and faculty singing the alma mater and wondering if anybody was hearing the students’ voices swell. That candlelight vigil took place within days of former President Gene Nichol’s announcement that the College’s Board of Visitors had not renewed his contract. The reasons for this remain as murky now as they did four years ago but have often been chalked up to personality clashes, a lack of fund-raising, or simply an inability to get along with Old Virginia.

Memories of Nichol have, of course, arisen during the two weeks following University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan’s forced resignation by the Board of Visitors. Like Sullivan, Nichol had been extremely popular with students, faculty and alumni, made efforts to advance scholarship even in subjects that were not profitable to the university, and worked to increase student and faculty diversity at a school that often, how shall we say, completely lacked it. Like UVA Rector Helen Dragas’s comments, those from W&M Rector Michael Powell (yes, the one from the FCC, and yes, the one who is Colin Powell’s son) seemed inadequate to those seeking any explanation for the Board’s decision. 

I attended a Board forum then with professors and students, and Powell’s statements seemed, like Dragas’s, bizarre. When fielding a question about why the Board had not immediately issued a statement (Nichol waited until two days after the notification of his effective termination to go public, citing a desire for the Board to let students, faculty, and alumni know themselves), Powell stumbled over an answer that, in essence, said, “;We needed to consult some lawyers to find the right language.” The Rector, along with two-thirds of that Board, was a lawyer.  His explanation of the decision through invocation of rhetoric about “;tough decisions you may understand when you’re older” seemed to the undergraduates I spoke to like a “;When you grow up, you’ll understand how the big kids operate” statement, not the detailed explanation young adults at an elite university wanted to hear.  Like UVA’s controversy will, William and Mary’s eventually blew over, with the installation of an interim-cum-full time internal president and a return to some semblance of normalcy. Nichol now serves as a named-full professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

So why drone on about this memory in a GradHacker post?

Because, as Marie Griffith pointed out in her excellent Religion and Politics piece, this story is not about the University of Virginia or the College of William and Mary. It’s about institutional cultures and academic politics.

As first-year graduate students, my peers and I reacted mostly with cynicism to the Nichol debacle. What was the point, we wondered, of studying to be historians if the humanities were worthless when compared with business interests? What would happen to us (and our stipends!)  if we joined our tenured faculty members in striking and refusing to teach class until a resolution occurred? What would happen if we didn’t?  Should we give an answer to the undergraduates who demand that we show our commitment to the university by continuing to teach despite the circumstances — or the ones who demand that we vacate our posts as a sign of that commitment? What was happening to the university system that we’d recently dedicated our lives to joining?

Four years later, we’re still engaged in many of those conversations. University structures are constantly changing. What will they look like in the two years until we look for professions within them, never mind the decades it could take to become entrenched? 

We don’t, of course, have the luxury of waiting to ponder those questions and begin thinking about our responses and strategies for political situations beyond our control. That the era of the absent-minded professor is giving way to the clued-in and world-savvy one is not necessarily tragic. It’s important to think about giving students and parents something of tangible value for the financial investments they make.  It’s important, too, to recognize that many humanities fields may hold intrinsic value and improve reading, writing, and critical thinking skills even when their factual basis seems detached from reality.  It is often difficult to explain this to business or outcome-oriented individuals—the types of folks who mostly populate university boards — but it’s important to have those explanations prepared.

My friends and I decided to go about our normal business, wearing Nichol support pins and attending rallies and meetings when we could. Some professors' graduate students cancelled classes; others (particularly assistants and recent associates) and forged ahead after sending their classes e-mail notifications that attendance would not count and conscientious objection was applauded (leading, of course, to benefits for those who conscientiously objected to sitting in an indoor classroom during a beautiful spring day).

Ultimately, I think many of us wound up glad that we’d received a certificate in University Politics 101 so early during our careers. We benefitted from watching our department scramble to react and learned about the balance between academic freedom and self-preservation.

I don’t know whether UVA students will say the same in a few years, but I’d love to hear the thoughts of any current students out there. Has anyone experienced this at other schools, and what did you learn? What does this say about the current state of universities and their political structures? What should we as potential university employees do to prepare for our careers? In the spirit of higher education, perhaps the best way to make sense of the Teresa Sullivan debacle is to seek a professional education for ourselves.


Inside Higher Ed | Blog U