What else has Penn State whitewashed?

Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit has thoughts here and here.

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Burst the bubble

Writing at the New York Post, UT law professor Glenn Reynolds makes a modest proposal:

It’s officially a crisis. Student loan debt has hit the $1 trillion mark, exceeding Americans’ total credit card indebtedness. Unemployed graduates with huge loan balances are camping out in “Occupy” camps — the Hoovervilles of our age — around the nation. And President Obama, perhaps afraid those camps will be dubbed “Obamavilles,” as indeed they have already been by some, has unveiled a new proposal that promises to help graduates who are drowning in debt.

Unfortunately, “promises” is the correct word. Though unveiled with much fanfare, the Obama proposal doesn’t really do much. First, as the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out in an article characterizing it as mostly political, “The benefit is available only to current students. Those jobless college graduates who are protesting on Wall Street and at similar events elsewhere won’t qualify.”

Second, even for those who do qualify, the benefit doesn’t amount to much. Daniel Indiviglio of The Atlantic Monthly calculated that the president’s plan will save the average grad less than $10 a month. (Even those with $100K in debt will save only $28.50 a month). You can make that sound like more — and the White House tried — by touting total savings over the life of the loan, but this isn’t going to rescue anyone who’s financially underwater. It’s a beer and a slice a month, more or less.

At best, it’s a band-aid solution. The real problem is that we’ve been running a higher education bubble, one that — like the real-estate bubble — has been pumped up by cheap government money. Since 1999, student loan debt has increased by 511%, while disposable income has increased by only 73%.

That’s because when the government subsidizes something, producers respond by raising prices to soak up as much of the subsidy as they can. College is no exception. Tuition has been increasing much faster than disposable income, and families — believing that a college education is a can’t-lose investment, much as they used to think houses were — have been making up the difference with debt. After all, we’re told, student loan debt is “good debt,” because a college degree guarantees more earnings.

Tell it to the Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of whom note that they’re deep in debt for fancy degrees that didn’t get them jobs.

The problem is, “college” isn’t an undifferentiated product. Companies can’t hire enough mechanical engineers, but there’s no bidding war for majors in Fine Arts or Women’s Studies, degrees that cost just as much, but deliver a lot less in terms of employment. In an economically rational market, it would be harder to borrow money to finance fields of study that were unlikely to produce enough income to pay back the loans. But since the federal government subsidizes everything — and makes student loans un-dischargeable in bankruptcy — there’s no incentive for lenders to care, and even less incentive for colleges and universities to care. They get their money up front, after all — just like the people who wrote the subprime loans that fueled the housing crisis.

For serious student-loan reform, we’re going to have to look well beyond the Obama proposal. We need something that aligns incentives with reality. Here’s my proposal:
I think we should return to the days when student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy, starting five years after graduation. This will allow graduates who are unable to pay to get out from under what is otherwise a potential lifetime of debt-slavery. If you buy a house to flip, and wind up losing your shirt, we let you go bankrupt, take a credit-rating hit, and scrub the debt away. Why should graduates be forbidden from doing the same? The five-year delay means that you can’t use immediate post-graduation poverty as an excuse (as some medical students used to do), but still provides an out.

But the real incentive-alignment part is this: Put the institutions who issued the degrees on the hook for the money they received. Making them eat the entire loan balance would probably bankrupt a lot of colleges (though that should tell us something about the problem right there), but sticking them with even a small fraction — say, 10% or 15% — would be enough to inspire a much greater degree of concern for how much debt students take on while in school, and for how likely they are to find gainful employment after graduation.

One way or another, the higher education bubble is going to deflate. Better that it should do so without crushing the students it was supposed to benefit — or the taxpayer.

I was so happy to see him say this: “In an economically rational market, it would be harder to borrow money to finance fields of study that were unlikely to produce enough income to pay back the loans. But since the federal government subsidizes everything — and makes student loans un-dischargeable in bankruptcy — there’s no incentive for lenders to care, and even less incentive for colleges and universities to care.”

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: The liberal arts does not have to be threatened by this. It can, in fact, be revived. We need to usher in the era of the double major–one job-oriented, heavy on necessary skills and practical knowledge; the other centered on all that wonderfully fun and well-rounding but less applicable artsy stuff, like English. Folks who can do both — who can manage the coursework, cultivate skills on both sides of the brain, and maintain a GPA all the while, will be top candidates for scarce jobs.

We also need to bring back strong core curricula, so that that everyone, whether they can handle a double major or not, has some solid, essential grounding in subject matter across the disciplinary spectrum. It should not be controversial to say that every college graduate should have some strong coursework in math, science, history, foreign language, economics, writing, literature, and social science. A core curriculum that more than does justice to these areas can be completed in two years, with room to spare–leaving the final two years of college for a major (or two). There’s a lot of resistance to that idea, though. Conservatism takes many forms–and as “liberal” as colleges and universities are reputed to be, they are, procedurally, some of the most hidebound, change-resistant institutions we’ve got.

If we make some of these curricular adjustments, ancillary problems like campus party culture, grade inflation, and general lack of intellectual seriousness on campus could begin to resolve themselves.

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The crony academy

President Obama is appealing to a disgruntled demographic with his plan for student loan reform — but it’s a bait and switch that will continue to enrich colleges and universities, to gouge and impoverish students, and to provide perverse incentives across the board.

Here’s John Podhoretz in the NY Post:

The staggering inflation in the cost of higher education since the federal government got involved in lending money to Americans for college in 1965 beggars description. One federal study found that between 1982 and 2007, tuition costs rose 432 percent while family income rose only 147 percent.

It is impossible to imagine that costs would have been even higher had the federal loan system not been in place at all. In other words, while federal subsidies have continued to grow, they have simply been gobbled up by universities.

According to the invaluable Web site finaid.org, the average graduate of a four-year college in the United States now leaves school saddled with $27,000 in debt. The reforms the president announced to the national student-loan system in front of an audience of screaming college kids in Denver on Wednesday won’t actually do very much to help them — and will do nothing to help people out of college now and coping with their indebtedness.

The reforms are complicated and banal, but the best any eligible student can get out of them (and not all of them can) is an interest-rate reduction of 50 basis points, or half a percent.

So say you’re an average student carrying a $27,000 debt. Your monthly payment is about $208. With the reforms Obama is instituting, and assuming an interest rate of 6 percent, your monthly payment will drop $9 a month to $199. Staggering.

In addition, the proposal advances the Obama administration’s drive for the federal government to take direct control of the nation’s student-loan system. You’ll borrow from the federal government and you’ll pay the federal government back.
Without question, the current system — a jerry-rigged series of loan programs that now shockingly involves Washington offering undeserved direct subsidies to private banks — is terrible.

But when the government becomes the holder of American loans, something even worse happens. The relation between a self-governing people and those who govern them is thrown out of whack. Perverse incentives pop up all over the place. It happened to American agriculture. And it has been happening for decades with American higher education, which has been on an expansionist spree in part as the result of federal tuition subsidies.

I know a guy who just shrugs at stuff like this and says we’re getting what we voted for.

Did I mention that the most expensive schools in the country are pushing $60K a year (Sarah Lawrence, at number one, runs $58,334 all in this year)? More than 120 schools have crossed the $50K mark. And publics are closing in on privates — especially for out of state students.

There are still some bargains out there — reasonable prices and a strong education. You can go to UNC – Chapel Hill for $6665 in tuition and fees. May the market do its work.

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Quote for the day

The Occupy Wall Street manifesto, originally drafted by Micah White of the Canadian Adbusters Media Foundation, called for someone—it is not clear whom—to “Forgive all student loan debt.” This was one of the steps that “can be done right now to rejuvenate democracy and economic justice in our country.” Our country presumably meant the United States, not Canada; though it is possible that OWS signals Ottawa’s territorial designs on its impoverished southern neighbor.

Evaporating $1-trillion in assets would certainly be a jubilee. But doing so would almost instantly put most American colleges and universities out of business. They pay a substantial portion of their operating expenses out of “current revenue,” and a substantial portion of that comes from the money that students borrow to pay tuition, room, and board.

All this time I’ve been thinking that American higher education had made a serious wrong turn when it transformed itself into something-for-everyone mass higher education. I’ve been arguing for the last five or six years that we need to rethink this model. We should, I’ve said, foster a greater variety of rewarding options for high school students so that they don’t think college (and college debt) is the only viable path toward prosperity. We should free online education from the morass of regulatory obstacles so that it competes fairly with traditional colleges. We should unleash that innovative spirit that would allow more colleges to offer stripped-down and therefore less expensive versions of a bachelor’s degree. We pay uncalculated but very large costs for the dominant model of American undergraduate education in which colleges offer a cornucopia of “electives”—that often add up to very little real education.

I’ve been predicting that if we took such steps, the overall number of colleges and universities would decline but that most would adapt. And I was cheered when a Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, and a colleague, Henry Eyring, published a major book, The Innovative University, making a similar case. Others have been making kindred points, perhaps most notably my Innovations colleague Richard Vedder.

Perhaps all of us have been thinking too small. The OWS Manifesto’s call, “Forgive all student loan debt,” would be a quicker answer. Exercise and dieting is one way to lose weight; anorexia is another.

The call for debt forgiveness is unlikely to find any serious political support. That call is interesting, however, in a variety of ways. It underscores how the higher education “bubble” is translating into a substantial grievance for many recent college graduates who find themselves unable to come to grips with current realities. And it pinpoints the financial structure of American higher education as a root problem. What we need is a way to rethink what happens to individuals after high school. Attempting to send everyone to college turns out to be a poor way to respect the ideals of personal freedom, intellectual autonomy, and human equality. Our one-size-fits-all approach offers only a veneer of choices and it results in educational mediocrity or something worse. It produces a mediocrity of both mind and practical skill, and it is typically a proud mediocrity that cannot comprehend its own stuntedness. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what contemporary higher education typically promises: wholeness, personal growth and sophistication.

Debt forgiveness, even if it came, wouldn’t relieve the misery of finding out that these were hollow promises. Disillusionment is what’s needed. What we see now among those OWS protesters focused on student loans is a desperate attempt to ward off that reckoning.

That’s National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood, writing at the Chronicle of Higher Education. He doesn’t answer the question of what is to become of all that unsecured–and possibly unsecurable–debt. But he’s on to something when he suggests that we need to look harder at root causes and re-think the entire rationale for higher ed as we know it.

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Occupy Your Common Sense

Rich Vedder writes:

In an informal survey of over 50 protesters in New York last Tuesday, blogger and equity research analyst David Maris found 93 percent of them advocated student-loan forgiveness. An online petition drive advocating student-loan forgiveness has gathered an impressive number of signatures (over 442,000). This is an issue that resonates with many Americans.

Economist Justin Wolfers recently opined that “this is the worst idea ever.” I think it is actually the second-worst idea ever — the worst was the creation of federally subsidized student loans in the first place. Under current law, when the feds (who have basically taken over the student-loan industry) make a loan, the size of the U.S. budget deficit rises and the government borrows additional funds, very often from foreign investors. We are borrowing from the Chinese to finance school attendance by a predominantly middle-class group of Americans.

But that is the tip of the iceberg: Though the ostensible objective of the loan program is to increase the proportion of adult Americans with college degrees, over 40 percent of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree fail to receive one within six years. And default is a growing problem with student loans.

Further, it’s not clear that college imparts much of value to the average student. The typical college student spends less than 30 hours a week, 32 weeks a year, on all academic matters — class attendance, writing papers, studying for exams, etc. They spend about half as much time on school as their parents spend working. If Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (authors of Academically Adrift) are even roughly correct, today’s students typically learn little in the way of critical learning or writing skills while in school.

Moreover, the student-loan program has proven an ineffective way to achieve one of its initial aims, a goal also of the Wall Street protesters: increasing economic opportunity for the poor. In 1970, when federal student-loan and -grant programs were in their infancy, about 12 percent of college graduates came from the bottom one-fourth of the income distribution. While people from all social classes are more likely to go to college today, the poor haven’t gained nearly as much ground as the rich have: With the nation awash in nearly a trillion dollars in student-loan debt (more even than credit-card obligations), the proportion of bachelor’s-degree holders coming from the bottom one-fourth of the income distribution has fallen to around 7 percent.

Vedder goes on to list the top failings of the federal student loan program: artificially low interest rates are fueling a higher ed bubble very like the housing bubble; loan rates do not vary according to the prospects of the borrower; cheap loans are incentivizing skyrocketing tuition; financial disclosure rules that enable colleges and universities to engage in rampant price discrimination.

There are still dots to be connected, though.

1. Unless mommy and daddy are paying in cash, you are independently wealthy, or you’ve got yourself a fat scholarship, it’s asinine to go to a costly private college. Public schools are still affordable, and good educations are there for the taking.

2. Wherever possible, work to pay off college bills in real time, as opposed to borrowing to pay them off down the road.

3. It’s financial suicide to major in a subject without the job and income prospects that will allow you to make a living and pay off any loans you take out. Women’s studies–not looking so hot. Engineering–the best prospect out there if you can do the coursework. I have said it before and I will say it again: I think the financially smart way of the future for humanities-oriented, artsy undergrads is the double major. Go ahead and major in English–but also major in something that gives you the knowledge and the skills you will need to get a proper paying job. Liberal arts education doesn’t have to die–but it does have to co-exist better with more vocational training.

4. We need to re-think the “college for everyone” model. All that’s doing is turning college into the place under-educated high school graduates go for the remediation they should have gotten long before. Re-valuing the high school diploma, so that it really means something and really readies people for both the blue-collar and white-collar workplace is a vital piece of the puzzle here.

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Where the money is

From USA Today:

Following the lead of the $5million football coach, athletics directors might be next to hit the college sports salary jackpot.

ADs average about $450,000 at the NCAA’s top-tier schools, according to a USA TODAY analysis, rivaling the pay of many university presidents. But at least six ADs make more than $1million, and since August 2010, at least 10 public schools have given their ADs pay raises of $75,000 or more.

The job has gone from coach emeritus to one that has attracted at least one former multinational CEO: Dave Brandon, who at Domino’s Pizza oversaw more than $6billion in annual sales and 180,000 employees. As athletics director at the University of Michigan, his $700,454 pay is lower than some of his employees’.

At top NCAA programs, athletics directors handle $100million budgets, steer licensing and media contracts totaling several times that and manage facilities worth billions. The best ADs are rainmakers who make the deals and align the stars that finance big-time athletics. And if pay for top talent in the 120-school Football Bowl Subdivision is a market — as many argue to justify the rocketing salaries of head and assistant coaches — then AD pay appears headed for the up escalator.

Few ADs are more aware of their market value than Brandon. In 2009, he made more than $4.2million — including stock, options and incentives — according to Domino’s company statements. As Michigan’s AD, his salary is less than that of Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, who makes $750,000.

Even so, Brandon’s pay is nearly double his predecessor’s. “Certainly I wanted to be paid fairly and competitively,” says Brandon, 59, a former Michigan football player and Michigan regent. “But obviously, if everything I was about in this stage of my career was making as much money as possible, I would have stayed.”

Bringing in former CEOs to run athletic departments is likely to increase, especially as cash-strapped schools are increasingly insisting that athletics run without subsidies and student fees (only seven did in 2010).

“I think you will see more people making the transition and doing it gladly,” says Andy Dolich, a former pro sports executive who consults with schools, including Michigan, for marketing giant IMG. There’s evidence they might bring their salaries with them. Among the top schools, about one in 12 ADs make more than $900,000.

“There has been an explosion in cost that bothers me enormously,” says LSU chancellor Michael Martin, whose school recently gave AD Joe Alleva a $175,000 raise when Tennessee expressed interest. “On the other hand, I’m contributing … doing exactly what I’ve done.”

All in the name of education, all done as a tax-exempt non-profit.

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First things first

Kathleen Parker writes:

Jobs, jobs, jobs, we keep hearing. But for whom, whom, whom?

Certainly not for the many young Americans being graduated from colleges that have prepared them inadequately for the competitive marketplace. The failure of colleges and universities to teach basic skills, while coddling them with plush dorms and self-directed “study,” is a dot-connecting exercise for Uncle Shoulda, who someday will say — in Chinese — “How could we have let this happen?”

We often hear lamentations about declining educational quality, but the focus is usually misplaced on SAT scores and graduation rates. Missing from the conversation is the quality of what’s being taught. Meanwhile, we are mistakenly wed to the notion that more people going to college means more people will find jobs.

Obviously the weak economy is a factor in the highest unemployment rate for those ages 16 to 29 since World War II. But there’s more to the story. Fundamentally, students aren’t learning what they need to compete for the jobs that do exist.

These facts have been well documented by a variety of sources, not to mention the common experience of employers who can’t find applicants who can express themselves grammatically.

A 2010 study published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 87 percent of employers believe that higher-education institutions have to raise student achievement if the United States is to be competitive in the global market. Sixty-three percent say that recent college grads don’t have the skills they need to succeed. And, according to a separate survey, more than a quarter of employers say entry-level writing skills are deficient.

One of the most damning indictments of higher education came this year with a book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. It’s a dense tome that could put Ambien out of business, but the authors’ findings are compelling. Just two examples:

●Gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills are either “exceedingly small or nonexistent for a larger proportion of students.”

●Thirty-six percent of students experience no significant improvement in learning (as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment) over four years of higher education.

Undoubtedly, critics of Arum and Roksa will find reason to diminish their findings. But Americans know that something is wrong with higher education, and the consensus is growing that young adults aren’t being taught the basic skills that lead to critical thinking.

Most universities don’t require the courses considered core educational subjects — math, science, foreign languages at the intermediate level, U.S government or history, composition, literature, and economics.

The nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has rated schools according to how many of the core subjects are required. A review of more than 1,000 colleges and universities found that 29 percent of schools require two or fewer subjects. Only 5 percent require economics. Less than 20 percent require U.S. government or history.

Critics of ACTA’s findings insist that the core curriculum is outdated and accuse the organization of being “conservative.” (Founders included Lynne Cheney and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.) Some also insist that such “old-fashioned” curricula merely encourage memorization and rote learning rather than critical thinking.

Ridiculous, says ACTA President Anne Neal: “How can one think critically about anything if one does not have a foundation of skills and knowledge? It’s like suggesting that our future leaders only need to go to Wikipedia to determine the direction of our country.”

College students may be undereducated, but they’re not dumb and many feel short-changed. A recent Roper Organization study found that nearly half of recent graduates don’t think they got their money’s worth. The problem with education isn’t money — we spend plenty — but quality. Yet, instead of figuring out how to make education pay future dividends, higher-educational institutions are building better dorms with flat-screen TVs, movie theaters and tanning salons, according to a recent CNN report. If parents aren’t furious, they’re not paying attention.

In the lost spirit of in loco parentis, Neal and Arum have teamed up to take these findings to those upon whom ultimate responsibility falls: the nation’s 10,000 college and university trustees. In a letter sent a few weeks ago, Arum wrote that institutions not demanding a rigorous curriculum “are actively contributing to the degradation of teaching and learning. They are putting these students and our country’s future at risk.”

That’s a provocative charge and a call to arms. Let’s hope trustees hear it and heed.

Okay, so I pasted in the whole thing. Glad to see the conversation about curriculum is getting connected to the conversation about jobs. The problems are long-standing, but could be covered over more or less in a flush economy. Not any more.

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Better late than never

From Inside Higher Ed:

The president and executive director of the American Historical Association have just released a statement calling for their field to abandon the idea that any career path — including those paths outside of academe — be classified as “alternative.” It is time, they argue, to admit that the academic job market is not coming back anytime soon, that many new Ph.D.s who find jobs outside academe find rewarding work (both financially and intellectually), and that the doctoral experience needs to change in some ways so that new Ph.D.s have more options.

“… [G]raduate programs have proved achingly reluctant to see the world as it is. For all the innovation in the subjects and methods of history, the goal of the training remains the same: to produce more professors; the unchanged language of supervisors and students reflects this,” says the statement. “We tell students that there are ‘alternatives’ to academic careers. We warn them to develop a ‘plan B’ in case they do not find a teaching post. And the very words in which we couch this useful advice make clear how much we hope they will not have to follow it — and suggest, to many of them, that if they do have to settle for employment outside the academy, they should crawl off home and gnaw their arms off.”

The statement — “No More Plan B” — appears in the new issue of the AHA publication Perspectives and was written by Anthony Grafton, a Princeton University historian who is president of the AHA, and James Grossman, executive director of the association.

Grafton and Grossman cite data from the last year (and the last several years before that) in which more history Ph.D.s are entering the job market than there are tenure-track openings. Despite the talent of the new history Ph.D.s, “many of these students will not find tenure-track positions teaching history in colleges and universities,” they write.

Further, they say that people cannot simply wait for the economy to improve. “As many observers have noted, this is not a transient ‘crisis,’ ” write Grafton and Grossman. “It’s the situation we have lived with for two generations. And it’s not likely to change for the better, unless someone figures out how to work magic on the university budgets that lead[s] administrators to opt for flexible, contingent positions rather than tenure-track jobs. AHA supports and joins in efforts to convert contingent to tenure-track jobs — but it’s unrealistic to expect these to pay off on a large scale. We owe it to our students and to our profession to think more broadly.”

In this environment, Grafton and Grossman write that the idea of working outside academe needs to be basic to all discussions with graduate students, from the time they look at programs to their dissertation defenses. But history departments also need to consider “bigger” changes than just talking about options, and those changes, the statement argues, should include adjustments in the doctoral curriculum. “If we tell new students that a history Ph,D. opens many doors, we need to broaden the curriculum to ensure that we’re telling the truth. If the policy arena offers opportunities, and we think it does, then interested students need some space (and encouragement) to take courses in statistics, economics, or public policy,” they write. “Accounting, acting, graphic design, advanced language training: students thinking at once creatively and pragmatically have all sorts of options at our research universities. And of course there’s the whole exploding realm of digital history and humanities, and the range of skills required to practice them.”

Throughout the time students are in graduate school, they need to feel that their faculty members will support their choices to work in or outside of academe, they write. “Most important is that we make clear to all students that they will enjoy their advisors’ and their departments’ unequivocal support, whether they seek to teach at college or university level, join a nonprofit agency or head off into business or government,” write Grafton and Grossman. “We teach our students to question received ideas and to criticize inherited terminologies and obsolete assumptions. It’s past time that we began applying these lessons ourselves.”

And they call on historians in academe to stop looking down on those who build careers elsewhere. Writing of the present biases in the academy, they say that “many of our students who actually do leave the historical profession, and take what they’ve learned in graduate school to the business world, are seen as having crossed the line from the light of humanistic inquiry into the darkness of grubby capitalism — as if the life of scholarship were somehow exempt from impure motives and bitter competition.”

Good luck with that last one. Though it’s worth noting how, now that it’s instrumental to a long overdue self-critique, there seems to be a new willingness to acknowledge how damaging certain types of ideological bias have been to the academic profession. When the conversation is about how bias is driving out people who are not of like mind, it can’t be admitted. When the conversation is about how bias is destroying one’s own, it has to be admitted. It’s a start — genies don’t go back into bottles all that well, after all.

Every humanities discipline should look hard at the AHA’s example and take notes. And every doctoral program should likewise look at its job placement record and rethink how many students it admits each year — and whether it should exist at all.

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Getting it right

For too long, university presses and academic journals have had scholarship in a stranglehold. To get professional credit, scholars have to publish their work there — but in order to do so, they have historically had to practically give their work away. They don’t get paid for it (except in those VERY rare instances when an academic monograph actually sells enough copies to cover publishing costs), and in the case of a peer-reviewed article, they also lose the ability to reprint it in other places. Meanwhile, the article gets effectively buried. The only people in the world who can see it are those with subscriptions, or those with access to university libraries and their vast subscription services. So much for actually contributing meaningfully to the production of knowledge.

But now it’s finally changing:

The movement to make research freely available got a high-profile boost this week with the news that Princeton University’s faculty has unanimously adopted an open-access policy. “The principle of open access is consistent with the fundamental purposes of scholarship,” said the faculty advisory committee that proposed the resolution.

The decision puts the university in line with Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a growing number of other institutions with policies that encourage or require researchers to post open copies of their articles, usually in an institutional repository. Unpublished drafts, books, lecture notes, etc., are not included in the Princeton policy, which gives the university a “nonexclusive right” to make copies of its faculty’s scholarly journal articles publicly available.

“Both the library and members of the faculty, principally in the sciences, have been thinking for some time that we would like to take a concrete step toward making the publications of our extraordinary faculty freely available to a much larger audience and not restricted to those who can afford to pay journal subscription fees,” said Karin Trainer, Princeton’s university librarian. She said they had encountered “no resistance at all” to the idea among faculty members.

The new mandate permits professors to post copies of articles online in “not-for-a-fee venues,” including personal and university Web sites. The faculty advisory committee that recommended the policy said that it will keep faculty members “from giving away all their rights when they publish in a journal.”

Academia should be moving more and more in this direction–not just with the sharing of scholarship, but with the sharing of courseware as well. Some argue that this will kill the “brand” of higher ed. I suspect that this is actually what’s needed to save it.

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Outsourcing Casaubon

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Dear faculty members: I sell Ph.D. advising services on the open market. And your Ph.D. students are buying. Why? Because you’re not doing your job.

Lest you think that by advising, I mean editing research papers and dissertations, let me disabuse you. I offer those services, but rarely am I asked for them.

A former tenured professor at a major research university, I am now running an academic-career consulting business. That’s right: I am doing graduate advising for pay. I am teaching your Ph.D. students to do things like plan a publishing trajectory, tailor their dissertations for grant agencies, strategize recommendation letters, evaluate a journal’s status, judge the relative merits of postdoctoral options, interpret a rejection, follow up on an acceptance, and—above all—get jobs. And business is so good I’m booked ahead for months.

As my own former Ph.D. advisees would happily tell you, I am not infallible. Your students don’t come to me because they think I’m the perfect adviser. They come because I’m available and you’re not. And because I don’t sugarcoat the truth and you do. When their work is bad, I tell them. Point blank. “Your essay is truly awful,” I’ve said. Or, “Has no one ever taught you how to write a grant?” Most important, I highlight the career stakes of their errors: “This job letter is no better than a B+, which in this job climate, may as well be an F. Do it over.” And they do.

When I ask them why they come to me—and not you, their Ph.D. advisers—the answers never vary. “Oh, my adviser? He’s supportive about the diss. But in terms of my career? I’m totally on my own.”

Why am I the pinch-hitter for an absentee professoriate?

Let me be the first to tell you, your advisees are working hard. They have certainly gotten the memo: Jobs are impossible, so publish before you finish. Network. Professionalize. They just don’t have the foggiest notion how to do any of that.

Cultivate a letter-writer? Do the elevator talk? Tailor a job letter? You are sending your Ph.D. students out onto this job market so unprepared that it would be laughable if the outcome weren’t so tragic.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to read a scold scolding. This is one of those times. It’s not just that professors aren’t doing their jobs on this front–it’s that when they don’t, non-academic others begin to step in and do it for them, and do it better. It used to worry and fascinate me to watch the professoriate trying to commit suicide. That was years ago, when I thought someone somewhere could say the magic words to make them wake up, get serious, and rescue their professional world. Now it’s just boring and pathetic.

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