Should Anybody’s Daughter Aspire to Academe?

26 01 2009

I have a daughter drooling over doctoral programs in English, so this definitely caught my eye:

The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 30, 2009
Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go

It’s hard to tell young people that universities view their idealism and energy as an exploitable resource . . .

Nearly every humanities field was already desperately competitive, with hundreds of applications from qualified candidates for every tenure-track position. Now the situation is becoming even worse. For example, the American Historical Association’s job listings are down 15 percent and the Modern Language’s listings are down 21 percent, the steepest annual decline ever recorded. Apparently, many already-launched candidate searches are being called off; some responsible observers expect that hiring may be down 40 percent this year.

What is 40 percent worse than desperate?

. . .As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

* You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.

* You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.

* You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.

* You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.

Bad news all around. OTOH, this same English professor (who himself writes under a pseudonym) suggests in a less brass-tacks column, that Favorite Daughter’s name rather than her field, might determine her academic destiny:

I haven’t done a study, but I’ve noticed that “a disproportionate number of academics have long, peculiar, and nerdy names.

. . . I have to wonder whether I was helped in elementary school because I didn’t have a name with working-class, ethnic associations that might have destined me for manual labor or the police department in the eyes of my middle-class teachers. My name was distinctive, and so they often noticed me in positive ways that only reinforced the negative attention I sometimes received from my peers.

. . .If your name is Hussein, are you likely to get a job teaching English? Have you ever met a Seungyoung who teaches phys ed? What if your name is MistyMarie? Could you ever work as a biochemist? And what if you’ve invested decades in a name that belongs to Read the rest of this entry »

How We Argue

26 01 2009

I don’t know if Paul Krugman knows everything even if he is popular on the left right now but he had a good column up yesterday about how we argue about the economic stimulus plan. The phrase that caught my eye was “arguing in good faith.”

This was a point I tried to make a few days ago at another blog — that what the country voted for was, in part, this very thing — that we want people to argue “in good faith.” We are tired of “cheap shots” and “bogus talking point[s]” and “nonsensical argument[s]” and time being wasted refuting “arguments and assertions that are equally fraudulent but can seem superficially plausible” and “old arguments” that don’t mention current circumstances.

Obama is polite and bipartisan and all that good stuff. Krugman is a bit less so — citing the “I won” quip — and I am sure I will never be close to bipartisan.

But that is a separate issue from truth. Facts. Straight information. The full picture. Context. Moving beyond playing games and addressing serious issues seriously. Rising above our personal biases and arguing in good faith.

It’s harder than falling back on soundbites but, as Krugman wrote, anything less will be and should be disregarded as “huffing and puffing.”