Academic Notes

Norman Augustine, USM Regent

Here is the highlight paragraph from Regent Augustine’s fascinating and somewhat scary TED talk: “For Americans to continue to enjoy the quality of life they have experienced in most recent decades, they will require access to quality jobs. Because technology in a sense has made the world ‘smaller,’ Americans no longer simply compete for quality jobs with their neighbors across town, they must now compete with their neighbors across the planet. Many of these new neighbors are highly motivated, increasingly well educated, and often willing to work for a fraction of the wages to which Americans have become accustomed. The only answer to this dilemma is to excel at innovation which depends on an educated workforce, new knowledge, and an innovation-friendly ecosphere. On all three counts America has been living off past investments. The trends of recent decades, if sustained, will lead to a jobless America. It is not too late to avoid perilous repercussions but it soon will be. Ironically, what needs to be done is relatively clear…the only question is whether Americans, and especially our leaders, have the will to do it.” He also focuses on the state of higher education, and it’s equally scary. And he calls for willpower to save the American dream. Of course, money power might help too.

A video of the entire talk is at

 Could the College Campus Go the Way of the Book Store?

Our title is the title of an article in Atlantic Cities (January 2014). It begins: “When it comes to the frenzied advent of the MOOC, the massive open online courses that have been threatening to upend higher education, no college wants to be perceived as old school. For some, there is a very real danger of becoming no school. With all this potential for upheaval, the physical makeup of institutions of higher learning is being called into question, too. As the business of education moves online, is the traditional quadrangle-dormitory-lecture hall-library configuration really going to be necessary? Could the college campus go the way of – gulp – the bricks-and-mortar bookstore?”

Not likely, but the argument is that spaces are changing functions, e.g., lecture halls and computer labs may be replaced by flexible spaces enhancing informalization and collaboration, and residence halls are becoming living-learning communities. So the campus may survive, but differently.

The Boycott Issue

The big academic explosion in recent weeks has been the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israel universities. Then the MLA Delegate Assembly narrowly approved a boycott-like measure. (Should the MLA meeting have been chaired by someone who backs a boycott?) Did the ASA and the MLA boycott institutions embedded in countries where free speech is limited, e.g., in China? Russia? Syria? Iran? Other countries where free speech is dangerous? Towson’s Maravene Loeschke, UMBC’s Freeman Hrabowski, and UMCP’s Wallace Loh are among the Maryland System’s campus presidents who have publicly spoken out against ASA’s boycott. In some European countries, anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head. Let us hope that the ASA and MLA votes were motivated by a misunderstanding of intellectual dialog rather than that ugly head.

Buying Professors

Politicizing a university? Given tight public budgets, perhaps political control of intellectual life should not be a surprise. Doesn’t everyone have a price? “A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting political economy and free enterprise.’ Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet ‘objectives’ set by Koch during annual evaluations. David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, defended the deal, initiated by an FSU graduate working for Koch. During the first round of hiring in 2009, Koch rejected nearly 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions but ultimately agreed on two candidates.” (Tampa Bay Times, 11 January 2014)

Tenure Types?

Adam Grant at the Wharton School has an interesting proposal, published in the New York Times (6 February 2014): “I have watched skilled researchers burn out after failing in the classroom and gifted teachers lose their positions because university policies limited the number of courses that adjunct professors could teach. Dividing tenure tracks may be what economists call a Pareto improvement: It benefits one group without hurting another. Let’s reserve teaching for professors with the relevant passion and skill—and reward it. Sharing knowledge with students should be a privilege of tenure, not an obligation.” Maryland?

The Humanities

Yes, the humanities are to some extent in trouble. Their faculty members don’t raise enough money, and many of their disciplines are not direct routes to jobs. As but one example, there’s no need to study English because word processors are self-correcting and who cares about poetry anyway. There are, however, other views.

♦ “The most substantial contribution of the humanities to public life does not come through empowering elite students and faculty members to reach out to their communities, but by extending the most fundamental element of a real humanities education—the power to doubt and then to reimagine—to as many people as possible. Material power, economic power, political power, all forms of human agency, are finally dependent on the power of imagination, which is why Shelley called poets ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ We cannot be a democracy if this power is allowed to become a luxury commodity.” (Kristen Case in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 January 2014.)

♦ Let’s dump the humanities: what we need is more STEM graduates to save the future of the United States of America! Well, not according to some observers! The article “The STEM-Crisis Myth” in the Chronicle of Higher Education (15 November 2013) argues that at least in some STEM fields there is a glut of graduates, forcing some of the graduates to seek work outside of their degree field. Even some post-docs not finding work in their field are looking elsewhere. Is a STEM education necessary for a STEM job? Apparently more than a third of STEM employees don’t even have a college degree! And about half of those with STEM degrees leave the field within ten years! So why are campuses pushing hard in the stem fields? Maybe because those are the fields that attract grants and contracts? The entrepreneurial university!

♦ What about money? According to data derived from the American Community Survey, those who focused on professional and pre-professional fields initially make more money than those who studied the humanities and social sciences. But in mid-life, the income becomes about equal.

Tenure and Contingency

We all know that the percentage of faculty members on campus with tenure or on a tenure track has declined, as has the percent of courses taught by tenured faculty members as well as all full-time faculty members. Back in 1969, close to 80% of faculty positions were tenure-track; now the figure is about 30%. Will tenure survive? Of course, even The Faculty Voice doesn’t know the answer. However, the attack on tenure of primary and secondary school teachers may not stop before getting to tertiary education. A year ago, a survey by Gallup found that 65% of provosts at public and private schools said their college relies “significantly on non-tenure-track faculty for instruction,” but a majority of the provosts indicated that tenure was still important. Why? Maybe the content of a paper issued by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges has part of the answer: “A large and growing body of research has emerged demonstrating that the poor faculty working conditions and policies are negatively shaping student outcomes.” Poor working conditions? Many instructors these days don’t even have an office to prepare material and to meet students!

♦ Jim Hightower writes in AlterNet (5 February 2014): “There’s a growing army of the working poor in our U.S. of A., and big contingents of it are now on the march. They’re strategizing, organizing and mobilizing against the immoral economics of inequality being hung around America’s neck by the likes of Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and colleges. Wait a minute. Colleges? That can’t be. After all, we’re told … to go to college to get ahead in life. More education makes you better off, right? Well, ask a college professor about that—you know, the ones who earned PhDs and are now teaching America’s next generation. The sorry secret of higher education—from community colleges to brand-name universities—is that they’ve embraced the corporate culture of a contingent workforce, turning professors into part-time, low-paid, no-benefit, no-tenure, temporary teachers….”

The full article is at

♦ Even the PBS Newshour is getting into the game. On February 6th, there was a segment focusing on the difficult lives of adjuncts. The program offered the views of some observers that there is an over-production of Ph.D.s given the job market—and the related shift towards online courses.

Response to Access Summit

Recently, a White House summit took place on expanding college access to higher education for low-income young people. One of the experts in attendance was Chancellor Brit Kirwan. The participants explored such topics as waiving the fees for multiple applications, better advising at the secondary school level, help with test preparation, and more. Following the event, Chancellor Kirwan issued a statement on our system’s plans. Here are two components:

(1) “The University System of Maryland (USM) will seek to expand the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program, created in partnership with Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools and Montgomery College. ACES identifies low-income students with college potential in the 10th grade, provides continuous academic coaching and support from 11th grade through a community college degree, awards scholarships, and provides pathways through a baccalaureate program at a USM institution. The first cohort of 1,000 has been identified in one county with expansion planned across the state.”

(2) “The University System of Maryland has developed Way2GoMaryland, an outreach campaign that provides information and engagement in communities regarding access to its institutions. The program is a major component of USM’s efforts to increase the college preparation, participation, retention, and graduation rates of students statewide. In addition, the STEM Transfer Success Initiative of UMBC and four community colleges addresses the collaboration required for successful student transfer from 2 to 4 year STEM programs: institutional partnerships, dissemination of principles and practice, and curricular alignment. A STEM Toolkit product will compile all components and resources developed in the project.”


How’s Your Salary?

Of course, we’re not in it for the money. The Wolf of Wall Street options have always been there. But we do want to be treated fairly. So here are the average salaries for doctoral institutions by rank: Professor, $134,747; Associate Professor, $88,306; Assistant Professor, $76,822. In Maryland, the figures are $122,962, $85,893, and $74.973. But of course most of us are in a discipline (or perhaps we should say department or program—it might not be disciplined), and these units have a great  salary range.

To be paid well, consider going into business or engineering, and if money is not relevant, feel satisfied in bottom fields theology and visual/performing arts. Of course, institutions matter; for pay above $200k, go to a private university such as Columbia, Stanford, or Chicago. For the publics, get a job at UCLA, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Berkeley, or Rutgers.


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