Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Tenured Professors Are To the Job Market What Whites Are To Racism!!!! Now with TENURED PRIVILEGE!!!!111

facepalm

If you want a reason to be pessimistic about academia, look no farther than the quality of many academicians. Adjunctification, as bad as it is, comes farther down the list...but anyway:

First: there's actually a lot of unintended truth in the post. Just as whites in general are currently blamed by the far-ish left for racism, tenured faculty in general are now being blamed for adjunctification, the bad job market, etc. But being white is not the cause of racism. That some people are racists is the cause of racism. Blaming whites generally for racism is insane. Some whites are racist. Some are not. (For that matter, some non-whites are racist, too...) It is false to pretend that all whites are racist. It is also counterproductive, but I care less about that. The current far-ish left hates the fact that not all whites are evil racists, and so tries to gerrymander new definitions to confuse the issue. But they're just plain wrong.

So, yeah, there's a similarity: tenured faculty generally, like whites generally, cannot rationally be blamed for the relevant problem.

Second, the analogy sucks. Just technically, even ignoring the above point, it's a badly-constructed analogy. The idea seems to be: white people are responsible for racism and tenured faculty are responsible for the job market. But tenured faculty aren't responsible for the job market. At worst, they might be responsible for the bad state of the job market, i.e. the fact that it's hard to get jobs. Which is a different thing. Perhaps she means: tenured faculty are to adjunctification as white people are to racism? I dunno. Anyway...what IS responsible for the bad stare of the job market? I dunno. Shitty economy? Decreased state funding? Administrators spending more and more money on bells and whistles and student amusements? Adjunctification? Jeez...academicians are supposed to at least be able to get the form of basic analogies right...  It looked like the author was going to comment on this in a subsequent post titled something like "why my analogy is bad"...but it turns out she wanted to apologize for the fact that it allegedly trivializes racism...  How could I not have seen that coming?

Well, anyway. I'm sick of the far left trying to assign group guilt. Many of us have worked to help solve the adjunctification problem. My university is radically underfunded, and yet it's made good progress on the problem in the last ten years or so. My department has tried to push the university to do more, and we've done some things on our own. And I've personally pushed for reforms at various times. The fact is that our power is fairly limited, and we tenured profs ourselves are hardly rolling in puppies. By the prevailing standards, we're radically underpaid, and somewhat overworked. It is illegal for us to unionize. Trying to fix the adjunct problem is just one problem among many others that we're all dealing with, even if we limit our attention only to professional problems. It's not that the adjunct problem isn't important--I think it's really important. But we are juggling a lot of important problems. You simply don't understand what's going on if you don't understand those things. We care about people on the job market--but people on the job market really need to keep their plight in perspective...

Look, the job market sucks. I really feel for people who have to go through it. But do note that we all did it. It sucked when I did it. Maybe it sucks a little bit more now, maybe not. But, one way or another, it's a marginal difference in degree, not a difference in kind.

And also: it's simply not rational to construe every disadvantage one encounters as oppression.

I could go on about this, but I won't.

Just a few additional points:

Honestly, let me note, ad hominem, that it's been notable to me that some of the leftiest members of our department have been least willing to give anything up to help out our adjuncts. And I've heard vaguely similar anecdotes from others. (Yes: anecdotes. That's all.) I once suggested that, since we literally did not have the authority to raise adjunct salaries in our department, we should consider giving adjuncts first choice of schedules. Scheduling is a big factor in academia. The difference between a good schedule and a bad one can mean the difference between a productive semester and an unproductive one, and between a pleasant one and a dreadful one. I absolutely do not want to give up my early choice of schedules. It can make my job a lot less desirable.  But adjuncts often get the crappiest schedules, and often have to drive to several different universities in any given week. And scheduling is something that we do have control over. At any rate, it's funny how quickly some of our department's biggest lefties suddenly began talking about the free market, and how the adjuncts had made their decisions, and could quit and any time, and it was a contractual transaction between free people...and so on... I mean, our conservatives made similar arguments...but at least they're consistent...

It might also be worth noting--though maybe not--that most tenured professors out there are in some sense--some sense--rather like eternal adjuncts ourselves. Most of us teach at unremarkable institutions. We don't have prestigious positions, we don't get to put as much effort into research as we'd like--and that's why we got into this business in the first place--we teach too much, we don't make much money, and we have, in general, slowly learned to try to live with all that. Of course it's not like getting stuck adjuncting. But it's not as if we're all bathing in luxury and yelling "let them eat cake!" It's a big, disappointing mess that has evolved over time. Most--or at least many--of us are trying to figure out how to make it better, but nobody is sure how to do so. And we've got more than enough other problems on our plates as well...

Really finally, let me address this passage:
However, today’s tenured professors indeed accrued privilege by virtue of birth: they were  born early enough to enter the job market and rise through its ranks before the total implosion of the university hiring economy.  Yes, the academic job market was tight in the 1980s and 1990s.  Sure it was; I was there!  But tight is not the same thing as decimated.  The tenured may have struggled mightily to find work, but there was still work to find, when universities had not yet begun the aggressive process of downsizing, shrinking the faculty, and eradicating lines.
In this sense, their “birth order” engenders the blindnesses that are the hallmark of privilege everywhere. The tenured indeed consider their way of life normal, unremarkable and normative.   They believe their gains are the result of their own effort and merit, not systematic structural advantage. They hold the power to exclude and limit outsiders’ participation in its processes.  They cast moral judgments on those who do not share their status based on their presumed individual failings rather than systemic disadvantage.  They literally cannot see those who do not occupy equivalent status. They enjoy, in McIntosh’s words, an invisible package of unearned assets that they can count on cashing in each day—access to the library and travel resources, an office in which to work, health insurance, the security of knowing that their employment will continue next term and next year, the right to participate in departmental, program, and campus-wide decision-making, and so on.
God what a mess.

This is what happens when you adopt the currently-fashionable, but hopelessly confused, conceptual apparatus of the lefty-left. If you start out confused about how to think about things, you'll end up being confused about what to think about things. Let's take it a bit at a time:
However, today’s tenured professors indeed accrued privilege by virtue of birth: they were  born early enough to enter the job market and rise through its ranks before the total implosion of the university hiring economy. Yes, the academic job market was tight in the 1980s and 1990s.  Sure it was; I was there!  But tight is not the same thing as decimated.  The tenured may have struggled mightily to find work, but there was still work to find, when universities had not yet begun the aggressive process of downsizing, shrinking the faculty, and eradicating lines.  
There's no "privilege" there, there's just luck. The job market stank to high heaven when I went through it. It did not "totally implode." It just--maybe--got a bit worse. Which is what happens in recessions... Those who came before me had it easier than I did, and it'll get easier again some day. The assertions here just aren't supported by the facts.
In this sense, their “birth order” engenders the blindnesses that are the hallmark of privilege everywhere. The tenured indeed consider their way of life normal, unremarkable and normative. 
Absurd, but that's the deal with "privilege"-speak. Faculty aren't "blind" to their situation, we don't consider our "way of life" normal, nor in any way "normative." Rather, almost all of us have a pretty sober view of the matter. I, for example, know that I got lucky to get where I am given where I started. A lot of people a lot smarter than me never make it out of rural Missouri. I know also that a whole lot of people have lots of advantages over me--compared to me, they were born with silver spoons in their mouths. I made it out of grad school and snagged a tenured position when lots of others didn't. I got luckier, there, too, than some who are smarter than me. I got less lucky than some who aren't as smart. I could have done a lot better. I could have done a lot worse. There was a lot of luck involved. There was a lot of skill. And a lot of work. It's just flat-out nuts to think that that most of us are blind to the fact of our advantages and disadvantages, or that we consider our way of life "normative," or any other such nonsense.
They believe their gains are the result of their own effort and merit, not systematic structural advantage.
Speaking for myself, I didn't actually have any notable "systematic structural advantage," unless it's true that the job market has gotten dramatically worse since I was on it. And that seems, unsupported assertions above to the contrary, not true. I got where I am mostly by a combination of my strengths and weaknesses and good and bad luck. I'm sure that there were some systematic advantages thrown in, and some systematic disadvantages, but mostly, once I was already in grad school, it was basically strengths and weaknesses, and luck, good and bad. The left hates that, of course--mostly they hate that individual virtue and vice matter so much. They want it to all be structural stuff beyond anyone's control. They are nutty in that way. But wanting it doesn't make it true. The luck is beyond your control, of course...but that's different than "systematic structural advantage." Next:
They cast moral judgments on those who do not share their status based on their presumed individual failings rather than systemic disadvantage.  
False.

Well, I mean, some do, but not many that I know of. Few faculty think that the average adjunct is morally inferior to the average tenure-track professor. I mean, professors are a pretty nutty lot...but not generally that nutty...  As for the rest...see above.

I mean, it is probably worth noting, however, that, if you assess the abilities of the average tenured faculty-member, and the average adjunct, you will find that the former are generally superior to the latter. (Note the abilities, in case you're tempted to read that uncharitably...) Contrary to what the lefty-left would like to argue, there are some meritocratic elements in the world. Academia is hardly a perfect meritocracy--not by a long shot. But success is also not just randomly distributed with no regard for skill. To deny this would be absurd.
They literally cannot see those who do not occupy equivalent status
Facepalm.

Ok, moving on...

No, wait...let's not move on...

This is literally false. Also: 'literally' does not mean figuratively. Also: facepalm again.

There certainly are a lot of asshole academicians that look down on anyone with less status than they have...but it's not the norm. And we mostly see just fine. Ok, now moving on:
They enjoy, in McIntosh’s words, an invisible package of unearned assets that they can count on cashing in each day—access to the library and travel resources, an office in which to work, health insurance, the security of knowing that their employment will continue next term and next year, the right to participate in departmental, program, and campus-wide decision-making, and so on.
Behold, the question has been begged...

These things aren't unearned.  Like everything else in life, a complex of skill and luck is what got these for someone like me. How much skill and how much luck? Well, hard to say with any precision... But we earned them as much as anyone ever earns anything. The lefty-left can't make claims like this unless they want to commit themselves to the claim that no one ever earns anything. Which they kinda do... But they'd rather not. They'd rather use the argument selectively, to bring into doubt only the things that they want to criticize. Because if, as their arguments would show if they really did show anything, there is no such thing as ever earning anything, then there is no objection to us having allegedly not earned our positions. Nobody ever earns anything--it's all just a result of "structural advantage." So no individual thing can be criticized on those grounds.

FINALLY:

Psychologists tell us that those who succeed at some endeavor, e, tend to view success at e as a result of skill and hard work. Those who do not succeed at e tend to view success as a matter of luck (e.g., "structural advantage.")  I'll just leave that for you to reflect on.

REALLY FINALLY!!!111:

IMO, the author's suggested solutions are not great, either. Viz:
Slash or halt graduate admissions.
Well, ok I guess if you want e.g. the APA to become a cartel, restricting the supply of Ph.D.s...  I'll admit, I used to think this. And I still do sometimes. But what this means is that fewer people who want to study e.g. philosophy at the graduate level will be able to. That is not clearly superior to a system in which you can study if you want, but you're told that your odds of getting a job are not good. I was warned. I knew what I was getting into. Back then--when times were really bad--grad schools had to send out a letter from the APA with every application saying, basically: you will probably not get a job...
Make job market training (both academic and non-academic) central to the curriculum
Do not do that. That is an absolutely horrible idea. It may be the worst idea I've ever heard with respect to this topic. And I say this as someone who was utterly clueless about the market, and who paid a high price for it, crashing and burning basically because I'd spent not a minute learning about the mechanics of the market. See, I thought I was just supposed to learn about philosophy...silly me...  By all means, make resources available to students; prepare them for the market. But to make this "central" to the bloody curriculum...that's to send graduate education even further (farther? The road is metaphorical...) down the road to perdition. And as for training for getting non-academic jobs...in the graduate curriculum? No way.
Reduce time-to-degree of graduate programs.
I dunno. Maybe. Seems like a bad idea to me. I could barely learn what I needed to in time, and I hung around a lot longer than I had to...

O.k., that's it.

Perhaps after I calm down a bit, I'll be more sympathetic to some of the author's points...but, in general, I think this post misses the mark pretty badly in a lot of ways.

And this crap about "privilege," and the tendency to see all problems as oppression...man, that shit's got to go...

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