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The De-Professionalization of the Academy

The author of the following essay is a Professor at a top-ranking, metropolitan U.S. university. The names of both university and professor have been fictionalized to protect the professor from retaliation.

In the fall of 2005, I began working as a full-time faculty member in the General Studies program at Hudson University. I was promoted to full Professor last year. Thus, the tale I tell does not represent sour grapes. Rather, what follows is a jeremiad decrying the direction that academia has taken in order to underscore the threats posed to academic integrity and institutional legitimacy. Over twelve years, I have watched with increasing dismay and incredulity as academic integrity, fairness, and intellectual rigor have been eroded, with the implicit endorsement of administration and faculty alike. I have witnessed the de-professionalization of the professoriate—hiring policies based on tokenized identity politics and cronyism, the increasing intellectual and ideological conformity expected from faculty and students, and the subsequent curtailment of academic freedom.

Just to be clear, most of my faculty colleagues are well-educated, bright, and dedicated teachers. Some are also worthy scholars or creative authors. Yet, in addition to cronyism, the program’s hiring practices have been significantly compromised, especially as a result of the premium that the university has recently placed on “diversity.”

While having changed dramatically in recent years, General Studies at Hudson represents the legacy of a remedial program that began in the 1970s. A few of its current faculty members are remnants of that era. Although a new, competitive bachelor’s degree, and a relatively strong master’s degree were instituted over the past ten years, the effects of the legacy program, along with recent hiring trends, add up to a professoriate of mixed credentials and accomplishments. A full listing of both full- and part-time faculty includes some members whose highest degree is the B.A., along with several faculty members holding M.As., along with a rather large contingent of faculty holding the M.F.A. degree. Of those whose highest degree is a B.A., their fields of study were sometimes unrelated to the courses that they teach. In addition to depriving students of scholarly and pedagogic expertise, this sort of staffing sends a clear message to students: university accomplishments are relatively unimportant. Students might rightfully begin to ask why they should pursue advanced degrees or even undergraduate degrees when the university itself apparently deems such qualifications unnecessary for teaching.

This unevenness in faculty preparation would not represent a travesty if not for the glut of highly qualified Ph.Ds. entering the job market each year, many of whom remain on the market year after year. Hundreds of newly-minted, extremely impressive Ph.Ds. often go without full-time work, and some are unable to secure positions as adjuncts. Such difficulties in finding academic work are not primarily due to the “over-production” of Ph.Ds., as is commonly held. Rather, as the labor historian Trevor Griffey argues, the proximate cause is the de-professionalization of academic fields – the penchant for hiring contingent faculty without Ph.Ds., and an apparent administrative preference for under-qualified, inexperienced faculty. In the case of Hudson’s General Studies program, this kind of hiring proceeds apace, despite the large pool of excellent candidates, most of whom would be more than happy to teach at our university while enjoying its cosmopolitan environs. It is not as if these candidates do not apply for jobs in our program. They do. But I have seen their applications passed over for far less qualified, even egregiously unqualified candidates.

Some of the faculty members with less than impressive credentials hold positions of significant authority in terms of curriculum development. They serve as chairs of various sub-programs within academic units, and have influence over curricula, both within and beyond the program. One such faculty member, who holds an M.A. degree in a field that is not even taught in the program, serves on a committee responsible for making university-wide curriculum recommendations to the Provost.

My first collision with the rather anomalous and dismissive treatment of credentials and accomplishments in the program occurred during my second semester at Hudson and involved the election for writing faculty chair in the spring of 2006.

The candidates included me and another faculty member. She holds an M.A. degree, but no degree in literature or writing. After each of us was asked to write an introduction and mission statement, the voting began. The ballot box was controlled by a faculty aide, and the votes were cast manually. Upon counting the votes, the faculty aide announced that I had won by two votes. Upon hearing this, a proxy of the competitor, who had no official role in the process at all, confiscated the ballot box, and absconded with the ballots to his office. Subsequently, a “recount” was conducted (by whom, I never discovered, and after what happened to the ballots, I am obviously entitled to suspicions). I suddenly became the loser by the same margin that I had won.

In a more recent election for writing curricular chair, my competitor accused me in his mission statement of writing books and publishing essays. He treated these as blemishes or sins that somehow disqualified me for the position. “I haven’t written any textbooks. I don’t like textbooks. I don’t have a Ph.D. or scores of academic, scholarly publications to my name,” he wrote. These comments were made as part of a diatribe that diminished the importance of academic credentials and accomplishments, representing the Ph.D. and scholarly publications as pedantic, fuddy-duddy detriments rather than qualifications. As things go in my program, he won the election.

Among the writing faculty, most of whom hold M.F.A. degrees, a disdain for scholarship, and in particular for Ph.Ds. in English, is palpable. This attitude is likely owing to the fact that many of the faculty with M.F.As. are frustrated with having to teach first-year writing and other lower-level writing courses, apparently believing that they are soon-to-be-discovered literary authors who deserve sinecures within elite M.F.A. programs. They treat the writing courses in the program as if they were part of an ersatz M.F.A. program, approaching their students in introductory writing courses as if they were all seeking, or should be seeking, to become literary authors or columnists for Harper’s Magazine. This mode of instruction does a great disservice to students. I have taught hundreds of students in advanced-level courses; despite having taken two writing courses and a half a dozen writing-intensive surveys before enrolling in these courses, most students come to my upper-level classes with no idea about how to write a scholarly essay.

The hiring practices for writing instructors have often been based on cronyism. One particular member of the full-time writing faculty has exercised a talent for pulling strings for friends of important people with whom she seeks to ingratiate herself. As such, and having some mysterious power over top administrators, she manages to secure positions for new adjuncts whose qualifications are quite imperceptible. In one case, the beneficiary of the cronyism had never taught a college class, held only a B.A. in sociology, and had published nothing other than a few chatty, web-based editorials. Yet she was hired to teach university writing courses.

After successfully securing part-time employment for this academic labor scab, the same full-time faculty member attempted to have the equivalent of a leftist Dear Abby hired as a full-time professor in writing and journalism. In this effort, she was foiled by the proponents of another kind of favoritism: identity politics tokenism.

I was appointed by the dean of General Studies to serve as the chair for a writing hiring committee, a committee charged with hiring one full-time writing professor, who not only could teach first-year writing classes but also offerings in journalism. The committee of three met late in the fall semester to discuss the first group of candidates, before undertaking the second set of Skype interviews. I mentioned that I had received an email from one of the candidates and shared it with the committee members. After reading the email aloud, I argued that the missive effectively disqualified the candidate. The writing was riddled with awkward expression, malapropisms, misplaced punctuation, and other conceptual and formal problems. Rarely had a first-year student issued an email to me that evidenced more infelicitous prose. I asked my fellow committee members how we could possibly hire someone to teach writing who had written such an email, despite the fact that it represented only a piece of occasional writing. The candidate could not write. I also pointed back to her application letter, which was similarly awkward and error-laden. My committee colleagues argued that “we do not teach grammar” in our writing classes. Sure, I thought. And a surgeon doesn’t take vital signs or draw blood. That doesn’t mean that the surgeon wouldn’t be able to do so when required.

In the Skype interview following this discussion, a fellow committee member proceeded to attack the next job candidate, a candidate whom I respected. In fact, before the interview, this colleague, obviously enraged by my criticisms of her favorite, announced that she would ruthlessly attack the next candidate. She did exactly that, asking increasingly obtuse questions, while adopting a belligerent tone and aggressive posture from the start. That candidate, incidentally, had done fascinating scholarship on the history of U.S. journalism from the late 19th through the first half of the 20th Century. He had earned his Ph.D. from a top-ten English department, had since accrued considerable teaching experience in relevant subjects, and presented a record of noteworthy publications, including academic scholarship and journalism. He interviewed extremely well, except when he was harangued and badgered by the hostile interviewer. He should have been a finalist for the job. But he had a fatal flaw: he was a white, straight male.

After the interview, I chided my colleague uncompromisingly, although without a hint of bias. I believed, and still do, that her behavior during that interview was utterly unprofessional and prejudicial, and I told her so. Next, I was on the receiving end of her verbal barrage. Not only did she call me some choice expletives but also rose from her chair and posed as if to charge me physically, all the while flailing her limbs and yelling. I left the room and proceeded to the dean’s office. I told the dean what had just occurred. He advised me to calm down and let it rest until the following week.

What happened next was telling. I was unwittingly enmeshed in an identity politics imbroglio. The woman who had verbally assaulted me was a black female and the candidate whom she championed was also a black female. I was informed by the dean that pursuing a grievance, or even remaining on the committee, was now “complicated.” Shortly after the dean recommended that I step down from the committee, I realized I was in a corner and stepped down, going from chair to non-member.

The committee went on to hire the woman in question. Since assuming her position, the new hire posted an official faculty profile linked from Hudson’s General Studies program page. Her faculty profile page betrays the same awkward prose, poor incorporation of quotes, and other problems of expression typical of first-year student writers, but usually not professors. The profile also includes a glaring grammatical error. I strongly believe that her official evaluations are likely as bad as her RateMyProfessors.com reviews.

To be perfectly clear, I am not arguing against the diversification of the faculty and student populations within Hudson’s General Studies program and beyond. Rather, I am suggesting that the diversity initiatives recently introduced by the university and our program have been hastily and thoughtlessly administered and mistakenly construed, to the detriment of academic integrity and real equity. Qualified academics can be found among all population groups. The university must ensure that those selected are qualified, first and foremost, not by their identities per se, but by what they know and are able to do and teach. It is sheer cynicism to suppose that qualified candidates cannot be found among minority groups. Blatant tokenism in hiring and promotion jeopardizes the integrity of higher education and also undermines the objectives that diversity initiatives aim to promote.

Further, when markers of race, gender, gender fluidity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and other factors are deemed the only criteria for diversity, students are cheated, as are those chosen to meet diversity measures on the basis of identity alone. Nothing is more essentialist or constraining than diversity understood strictly in terms of identity. Such a notion of diversity reduces “diverse” people to the status of token bearers of identity markers, relegating them to an impenetrable and largely inescapable identity chrysalis, and implicitly eliding their individuality. Meanwhile, there is no necessary connection between identity and ideas, identity and talents, identity and aspirations, or identity and beliefs.

Likewise, if we wish to foster real diversity in higher education, we must consider not only diversity of identity but also diversity of thought and perspective. This is the kind of diversity that we are supposed to recognize and foster in the first place.

Alex Southwell

Alex Southwell

The author of this essay is a Professor at a top-ranking, metropolitan U.S. university. Their name has been changed to protect them from retaliation.
Alex Southwell

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The author of this essay is a Professor at a top-ranking, metropolitan U.S. university. Their name has been changed to protect them from retaliation.

34 Comments

  1. Sarah says

    Excellent. I feel your pain. I worked with a number of police departments who branched into “diversity” in all the wrong ways. Men were hired based on background checks, prior military or similar service, and physical strength and agility tests, a written test and psychiatric examination. The departments spent considerable money traveling to military bases to recruit promising men rotating into civilian life who were in excellent physical shape.

    Women, OTOH, were recruited from the cheerleader squad at the local junior college, and their inability to pass the written tests, or pass the physical tests did not stop the departments in question from hiring them. So we had half a law enforcement department (male) which was experienced and effective and another half of a department full of bimbos who were hired for their looks and couldn’t do the job. As a woman, I was extremely offended that the bar had been lowered for my gender’s applicants when the departments could have spent the same funds to hire intelligent, capable female soldiers who were returning to civilian life and looking for work.

    • Police departments aren’t the only ones that have adopted a practice of fulfilling their woman quotas by hiring attractive young women. I’m a so-called “creative professional” and many of the tools I use come from a large software company that’ll remain unnamed.

      Over and over again, I’ve watched their new hires. Are they hiring women in mid-life with an abundance of expertise in their field? They’d benefit users like me the most, but I can’t recall seeing a single one, although I know a number of such people. New hires are invariaably young and more. On that infamous 10-point scale of attractiveness and judging by their pictures, all would rank at least a seven. They’re the equivalent of your police department hiring cheerleaders.

      There are other issues. When I lived in Seattle, I met a woman who had moved there, hoping to get a job as a fire department medic. She’d given up finding such a job in California, she told me, because as a white woman, she didn’t stand a chance. Intent on fulfilling various quotas, fire departments went for a twofer. A white woman didn’t get a second glance. She had to be a woman AND black or Hispanic, hitting two quotas with one hire.

      And you can at least understand why they might do that. Fulfilling two quotas with one hire left the fire department free to hire someone based on actual ability. That said, all hires should be based on ability and nothing else. As in the case of police departments, inadequate hires could mean someone dies.

    • 86TrumpNow says

      By all means, the best candidates for police are the ones that will treat the public like enemy combatants and may shoot innocent bystanders due to a case of untreated PTSD. Yes, military veterans are the best candidates because they are presumably physically fit.

  2. This phenomenon is nothing new, and it is not always related to either cronyism or “diversity.” More broadly, mediocre people are threatened by the talented, lazy people are threatened by energetic people, and dishonest people are threatened by honest people.

    The famous mathematician Paul Halmos noted long ago that good schools hire up, while poor schools hire down. How true! Moreover, good does not mean prestigious. There are good and bad community colleges, etc.

  3. Daniel F Cullen says

    The pursuit of excellence in America has taken a nosedive over the past several decades. Cronyism is a cause but it is often motivated by the careerism and lack of integrity of those in the organization in question. As a creative writing student in the mid 70’s I was subjected to a chain-smoking professor who cursed and shouted in class; that was a different pedagogical abomination but one that was no less injurious to classroom learning. I wish I had an answer to the larger societal problem posed by this author’s essay. I fear it will take a cataclysm in America to shake us out of the hyper-individualism that threatens us all.

    • defektiv says

      It is not hyper-individualism that is driving this disastrous trend, but Marxist collectivism. It is the overvaluing of certain “marginalized identities” over individual qualifications and experience.

  4. Penn Kimmel says

    I came to the nursing profession at the age of 42 (specifically to deal with AIDS – this was the early 80s). Already at home with basic hospital routine, working 12-hour shifts at a county hospital, I was advised by experienced RNs to start with a grueling two-year course at a community college so I could get “on the floor” quickly and be of most help. Then I could work on the BSN later. I took all the preliminary courses at once and entered the program a year later. It was, as advertised, a tough program that emphasized old-fashioned ‘bedside’ clinical nursing, utilizing nearly every specialized ward in nearly all hospitals available in the area (nine of them). The faculty was female and white — every one of them a highly hands-on experienced professional, expert in their fields, who demanded as close to 100% as they could get. They were there for 14/7 support as well (not 24/7: they weren’t superhuman, just top-notch).

    In the second year, the nursing school took on some more faculty “just to make sure you have everything you need for the Boards.” One black, one Native American, one Hispanic. Within a month, many grades were going down. Among them were those of the hitherto best students, mostly non-white, several male, almost all low income (not to mention taking care of children or seniors and/or working regular night jobs). Grade point average was vital for the few scholarships many of the students had to compete for. Passing the Boards, though essential for getting a job, could be studied for independently. Three of us got together and agreed we were getting “BS”: the lectures were apocryphal stories about their heroic times “in the field” (one of them was always telling the doctors what to do), two of them mispronounced half the technical vocabulary, and all of them were giving us test questions on material we’d never had. Expecting no back-up from the old faculty (they would not hear a word), we went to the Dean and was told their credentials were impeccable and that their test materials were valid. It was also hinted that we should not “open this can of worms.” We started digging (not with the back-up of our class which was running scared) and two more things came to light after another month: the impeccability of their credentials apparently came from the fact that they were all Viet Nam vets, specifically, nurses aides. Not RNs. None had a college degree and one, we thought, might not have finished high school. Second, the questions they were using came directly from a BSN Boards practice book, not the Associate degree we were working for. One of the nurses I was working with recognized it!.

    No dice. We made another appointment with the Dean and this time were met with two lawyers. They refused to listen to anything, said we were welcome to take the case to court, but that we had no way of knowing what we were talking about anyway, and were racist besides. The next day the Dean called us in, separately, and told us “students are students, and etc.” and that we might already have jeopardized our graduation. One of us (her husband was black) immediately resigned from the program and gave up the idea of nursing. My nurse friend had learned that the test questions were coming from the first ten in every section of the practice book and printed them out, so we told everybody to take notes on all their stories, never question anything, and read up on those sections, referring back to the material in that chapter. It worked. And we got a head start on the BSN material besides. I debated our use of the book with an ethicist once. To this day, she keeps coming up with different arguments.

    And thanks for posting, Mr. Southwell. I came across this story on Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarms, via Amy Alkon.

  5. Michael says

    “Their name has been changed to protect them from retaliation.”

    Welcome to the post-modernist society.

    An ideology and philosophy which after 30+ years of “deconstructing” Western values, because white European men are evil, is now in the final stages of destroying what used to be one of the cornerstones of Western society – the universities, the schools. Intellectual diversity and rigor now replaced with adolescent whimsical nonsense. The important thing is to “feel validated”. Acquiring accurate and diverse knowledge has not only become secondary, it’s almost a dangerous aspiration.

    What used to be noble institutions, are turning into cult-like expensive scams, run by charlatans. Some of the courses being “taught” – even scientologists would find over-the-top.

  6. Peter says

    Thank you for writing and sharing this story.
    I wish I could say more about this and share my own personal story or how I can relate to this, but today it’s “just” a sincere thank you.

  7. Cole Townsend says

    Professor “Southwell,”

    While I admire your critique of identify politics and its damaging effects on the academy, I do wonder why you think that the academy is the proper place to be a scholar these days (given the hotbed of “regressive leftists”), or to teach students the art of writing (many students finishing general education requirements don’t give a damn about learning how to write; they merely see GenEds as a stepping stone to their more specific academic goals, as I’m sure you’re aware). To the latter point: if students are so obstinate when it comes to taking GenEds, then does teaching them really promote a more liberal education and widely educated society? To me, it sounds more like force-feeding. (I say this as someone who studies science and reads widely in other fields, merely because I am curious. But for other students, who want to be more narrowly educated, I argue: let them.)

    Moreover, if you’re really concerned with academic freedom and its promotion, then why can’t you simply include your actual name on the essay? It is, of course, frightening to think that you will face retaliation, but will anything ever be solved in your department — and in the academy at large — if whistleblowers are not ready to face the consequences of their criticism?

    • "Gary" says

      Cole Townsend:

      I teach English Lit & Writing at a prominent state school. I think it’d be a shame to give up valuable work either because my students don’t realize it’s important or because my colleagues have abandoned ethical teaching.

      Any teaching can be “force feeding,” mostly if you don’t know what you’re doing. My students mostly have to be un-taught what they learned in high school–a formulaic, brick-headed approach to writing. And they are (almost) always grateful for the new ability to suddenly write about something they care about in a nuanced way.

      In order to understand why Southwell chose to remain anonymous, I recommend imagining this: you believe yourself to be doing important, essential work that helps others, while all around you people are actively corrupting and hindering the same people you want to help. Now, you want to continue doing this work, and you want to stop the harm, but even speaking up in strategic situations puts you at risk to be not only fired, but blacklisted from the industry altogether. If Southwell had used his/her actual name, then there is zero doubt Southwell would have been brought up on Title IX charges (see Laura Kipnis, for example).

      Now, it might be worth the risk if Southwell is in a good position financially, or has other options. But many of my colleagues are in deep student loan debt (getting a PhD isn’t free), and this is what many of us trained for most of our lives to be able to do. Letting others push us out of our jobs for being vigilant, ethical teachers seems almost too much to bear. So instead, we can continue to remind the public that this is urgent, while keeping our heads down and hoping that it turns around so we can be a part of leading our departments to a better future. Or, more pessimistically, we can continue helping our few handfuls of students every semester while the institution crumbles around us. Either way, I say kudos to Southwell.

      • You’re exactly right “Gary,” and the issue doesn’t just trouble academia. Hospitals including the top-ten children’s hospital where I once worked, can develop a hostile work environment. I worked in just such a situation and watch matters slide downhill until, just after I resigned, some 20% of its floor nurses quit en masse. The issue wasn’t any inadequacies in the nurses. I’ve never worked with a more dedicated group of people. The problem lay with an increasing hostile and critical administration. Blaming replaced teaching.

        Over and over again, I wrestled with the issues you describe. I loved my work, both on the Hem-Onc unit caring for kids with leukemia and later on the adolescent unit with teens. I felt I had I had a positive impact on their care, particularly working Hem-Onc nights. If one of those kids developed problems—and they were extremely fragile—I was the key to spotting its initial stages. That always had to be my first priority.

        To bring up what was wrong with the administration would have threatened my ability to do that well. It’d have also put the nurses I was working with under fire. The hospital’s standard response to any problem was to blame its nurses. I couldn’t bring up any issue without threatening both my ability to give care and drawing fire on them. Bad, bad, bad.

        Only in my resignation letter did I feel free to raise a few of the issues and even then I had to be guarded. The issue I chose to raise was that the day-shift teen unit nurses were hideously overworked. (They only endured the misery because most were newly married and desperate for day work.) I wasn’t a RN, so I couldn’t be attacked from that angle, and I was leaving, so the administration could not attack me for trying to get out of work. That complaint did not bet to the root of the problem, but it was all I thought I could do that’d have a positive impact in an increasingly tense environment.

        A few weeks later everything blew up and nurses began to quit, spreading the word so hiring replacements became difficult. When I pondered why I’d not heard any complaints, I realized that when matters are a little bad, people complain. When they are really bad, they say nothing, grit their teeth and look for somewhere else to work.

        You can read about my experience and the messy dilemmas I faced in a book I wrote: Senior Nurse Mentor: Curing What Ails Hospital Nursing Morale. I offer a solution for hospitals, a new nursing speciality devoted solely to nursing morale. But I’m not sure it would translate well to academia.

        Over and over again, I had to make difficult choices. I always chose based on what was best for the children and teens I was caring for at that moment. They had to take first priority. I simply wasn’t in a position to take on a hospital-wide issue. That’s precisely the trouble many teachers and professor face. The very fact that they’re good at teaching makes them fearful of losing their opportunity to teach.

        And the creeps, caring nothing about teaching or their students, are free to cripple and damage at will.

        –Michael W. Perry, medical writer

        • AesopFan says

          “And the creeps, caring nothing about teaching or their students, are free to cripple and damage at will.”
          That says it all, doesn’t it? The Destructors have degrees of freedom that the Constructive never enjoy.

    • Kerry Lawson says

      Cole Townsend:

      Writing is a basic communication skill, not an optional frill. If you read widely you should understand that being at least minimally comprehensible to others is essential to career progress.

  8. The solution is to defund Prog Ed in K-12, university and grad schools; replacing the anti-brain and anti-republic pedagogy with Western Enlightenment. Let private schools teach Marxism. Our constitution is not a suicide pact. Prog Ed is suicide to any republic that uses tax monies to fund this abhorrent ed system. At the heart, Prog Ed is unconstitutional because it destroys any constitutional republic. That is its design. Prog Ed is anti-reason and anti-human: it destroys human kindness and human happiness. It is its nature. Therefore, defund Prog Ed.

    Western Enlightenment fixes big problems humanely and quickly. Hence, Defund Prog Ed and watch everything ameliorate. On the other hand, if we do not defund Prog Ed, it will eat all brains.

  9. Alicia Maravilhao says

    It is unlikely that the quote was taken from the profile of an actual co-worker of “Prof Southwell.” Think of the abundance of such writing across academia’s profiles, even if you restrict yourself to looking at metropolitan areas. If it were a co-worker, there would be no real problem I can see. Many writers depend on the fluidity of spoken English to validate the way they write, and they are proud of it.

  10. alex says

    Terrible. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing. Or worse yet, to collaborate, like that dean.

  11. Ironwrkr says

    Diversity is a racist term. It means “too many white people”

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  13. Vicki says

    This contagion is spreading across the entire western world. In Australia our universities, our public service and even large corporations have been similarly infected with this de-constructionist ideology. While many exponents have a complete understanding of what they are doing to undermine our cultural and intellectual heritage, many feeble-minded fellow travellers who should know better are willing, but ignorant accomplices.

    We are at a pivotal point in holding onto the integrity of our intellectual life.

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    • Mark says

      You teach in General Studies at Hudson University? What’s it like teaching in a fictional university? Or, how do you know this is your program if the stories are lies?

  15. As an advanced degree holder, it pains me to see a fellow scholar fall into the gaping maw of higher education and its exceptionalism trap. The institutions we serve are, and have always been, a part of a larger machine of production. It seems the author views diversity and cronyism as some sort unfortunate disease-ridden by-product of a few bad actors.

    I take no pleasure in informing the author that while their essay might be illuminatingly true, it asks the wrong question entirely. A more substantially satisfying question would ask, what is the fuel that the engine of production (higher ed being a business, after all) runs on? I’ll take any form of quid pro quo cronyism for $1000, Alex.

    The penultimate question here is not that anyone was more skilled at teaching, making a widget or doing x labor for y return, despite the diversity red-herring, it is one of prioritization of work. The author here, like so many in higher ed, assumed that their primary role and responsibility would be to instruct. Not so. As a colleague of mine who is much smarter and more distinguished in their field than I, once said, “Unless you are a celebrity in your field, your main responsibility always should be to politics.” Good advice that has served me well.

    I would caution the reader not to mistake the above advice as an endorsement. If the author wants to “rage against the machine” as it were, I would be the last one to disagree. Indeed, I say fight the “good” fight as no man must, must. However, thinking one will triumph only proves that they are not even in the same game much less playing by the same rules.

    Alas, dear reader the next time you find yourself asking why you were passed over for that promotion or why you didn’t get that post-doc… remember this: It’s not that you weren’t qualified or better suited to the task. It was that someone outmaneuvered you and that ultimately in a system which prioritizes politics over merit, that is the only real currency that matters.

    • Hinch says

      Unfortunately, the author’s elitist notion that a credential means you can teach well is also not an answer to the problem. Indeed, the author’s very behavior, insisting that you can fix this with more “meritocracy,” is the product of the very capitalist society she laments. She would do well to stand up for what she believes in by telling it to their face, and getting out of the institution she despises. It’s broken. It cannot be fixed with your tender ministrations. It’s not going to be different just because you discovered cronyism. *rolls eyes* It’s always been there. The author doesn’t like it because she’s not the beneficiary of it. As soon as she is the beneficiary of it again, she’ll look around and say, “What? Cronyism? Not here. All lies.”

  16. Ph.D. is an indicator of superior scholarship but NOT one of superior teaching.
    However, the author is entirely correct about the problems in our discipline. MLA and NCTE hold annual conferences featuring scholarship that has little to do with writing, literature, rhetoric, language, or teaching. I don’t encourage students to join a discipline that has self-deconstructed into an intellectual Tower of Babel.

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