Monday, September 20, 2010

13. Respect for the academic profession is declining.

Anyone who has seen the NBC sitcom “Community” can attest to its unflattering portrayal of community college faculty members and administrators. The public image of what were once called junior colleges does not seem to be rising, despite the fact that today community colleges hire for their faculties hyper-educated scholars with PhDs. This is in large part the result of the competitive academic job market (see Reason 8), which has squeezed many people with hopes of teaching at research universities or four-year colleges into jobs at community colleges. So, it is interesting that a program like “Community” should appear now.

Part of the growing disrespect for—and ambivalence toward—higher education is a result of the slackening of academic standards and the proliferation of college course and degree offerings in subjects viewed (fairly or unfairly) as frivolous by the public. Part is bred by familiarity; as more and more adults have had at least some college education, they have less reason to view universities with the reverence inspired by the unknown and unattainable. Part of the disrespect is fostered by the higher education establishment itself, which by means of “adjunctification” has made work for professional academics insecure and unrewarding. And part of the disrespect stems from academics themselves, who have helped to dismantle (for good and for ill) the aura that once surrounded their profession by, for example, dressing more and more like their students.



22 comments:

  1. Surely it depends to a great degree on one's field. If you introduce yourself as a professor of physics or classical history, you'll likely be met with respect. Introduce yourself as a professor of gender or race studies, or sociology, or English... less so. The perceived rigor of the field is a big factor.

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  2. given that some ridiculously high percentage of americans believe the president isn't a us citizen, it's hard to use 'what people respect' as any sort of legitimate indicator of ability or quality. our society is incredibly capitalistic, and as such, money has become the de facto measure of respect. people who actually buy into that i don't consider particularly well educated. call me classist...

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    1. What is you say is very true. Nothing classist at all.

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  3. If you think that Classical History has more credibility or cachet than English, you're judging based on title alone. Both are disciplines in the Humanities. One just sounds more elegant than ordinary to a layperson's ears. It is equally arguable that Classical literature is (along with archaeology) precisely what is most valuable about the period, and classical history is just "fluff," not rigor. This is an arbitrary distinction.

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    1. Did you really call history fluff? Over literature? Please. Any half decent historian can do the job of an English professor. Most of the English academics, however, haven't the foggiest idea about true historical analysis. But you basically proved that.

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    2. Many of them can't even write English. Why should anyone respect them?

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  4. Using the president as an excuse is a non sequitur argument that I don't see how it relates to this article...

    It's more complicated than "who gets more money gets more respect". There certainly is a correlation but many other factors come into play. Part of the reason why humanities Ph.d's don't get a whole lot of respect is because the universities artificially oversaturated the market by accepting way many more students than this nation needs. And don't try to argue that this nation "needs" more philosophers- we don't. A combination of low demand and too many people accepted into the program will obviously result in lowered respect over time since it seems like "anybody" can get a humanities Ph.d despite the fact that hardly anybody needs them (at least imminently). The fact that they make less money is just a by-product of all this.

    If you REALLY wanted to get a Ph.d in the humanities then get it because you enjoy it- don't complain about things like money and less prestige because those are horrible reasons to go to grad school. Unfortunately humanities majors DO care about money, respect, and prestige more than they like to admit so they naturally hate on the sciences, which are technically "more" needed in this market.

    In short, people don't respect the sciences more simply because they make more money. People respect them more because research in the sciences (especially biology) is in the middle of a scientific revolution and producing countless inventions and discoveries like never before. In other words, they actually do shit.

    What people fail to realize is that most writers, philosophers, novelists, etc. are never well-known or "respected" during their lifetimes. There's no reason why it shouldn't happen now.

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  5. @8:53

    You forgot the biggest reason people respect hard sciences more than humanities. They are, well, harder.

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  6. I tell people I taught "medieval renaissance subjects" in college and the response is "wow, tell me about that!" Maybe it sounds harder because it is. So I don't buy this "science is harder" stuff. Science just requires different talents and obsessions. Theoretical science--e.g.astronomy, math,--are not "practical" in the pragmatic value equation. So live with it. But a living wage ought to be there for the liberal arts instead of the adjunct route.

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    1. I like your argument, in a perverse way; different, not harder. You may be right. But somehow I never hear anyone good at biology, chemistry, physics, or math tell me how difficult they find their English classes. My friends who study English always seem to find the time to tell me how bad they are at math when they see me with an open textbook.

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  7. "And don't try to argue that this nation 'needs' more philosophers- we don't."
    Maybe. I would say the country needs more philosophers, but doesn't need more people with Ph.D.s in philosophy. Those are NOT the same thing. Likewise, while a Ph.D. in economics may be an economist, and a Ph.D. in physics may be a physicist, a Ph.D. in English is usually NOT a novelist, a Ph.D. in Education is usually NOT a school teacher, a Ph.D. in management is almost never a CEO, a Ph.D. in international relations rarely is a diplomat, and even a Ph.D. in mass communication may not be, and might never have been, a journalist, ad agency exec, or PR practitioner....

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    1. You are confusing what people do with what they study. English PhDs study novels and novelists. PhDs in IR study diplomats. Your analogy only works if you think that physicists should be elementary particles...

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  8. Some ridiculously high percentage of Americans believe the president only serves his cronies and not the American public. So what does that have to do anything?

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  9. A fair part of it is because imho lots of what academics write about is pointless gibberish, (no matter how tangentially it might apply to actual big topics.) This might be a taboo topic to talk about - even here on a blog critical of the academic-industrial complex - but it has to be said.... most phd theses, along with what the prof's write about, is of NO value to nobody! (much less so in science, engineering etc.)

    Do all those fancy thoughts about lesbian afro-american-Other implications of counter-hegemonic 12th century lute lead breaks really mean anything to anyone... anywhere???

    Sure it might well be complicated well-crafted bullshit, but it's still bullshit...and the average man has a better eye for this than an academic hobbycult acolyte ever will. Save yourselves, break free.

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    1. "lesbian afro-american-Other implications of counter-hegemonic 12th century lute.."

      omg...I laughed out loud when I read this.

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    2. Sounds to me like you're spraying your homophobic, racist piss all over the blog. So do yourself favor and go back to school or wherever to learn real human decency. Sick!

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    3. Ay, the above poster is the reason why people see academia as pointless: You're too politically correct and your sensibilities are outside everyday applicability. What he said wasn't homophobic or racist. It's truth.

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  10. I would like to comment on the idea of professors dressing more like students and trying to appear "cool." I work in a department that has a couple of professors who epitomize this new trend and I think it is tacky, to say the least. It looks unprofessional and like they are trying too hard. Students aren't supposed to think you are cool, they are supposed to respect you and learn from you. I wouldn't respect a teacher that had pink hair. Just my two.

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    1. [ http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1216037/1/.html ]


      [ http://temasektimes.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/asean-scholar-and-nus-law-student-alvin-tan-what-can-nus-do-to-me ]

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  11. Many people lose respect for the academic profession while they are undergraduates. Contrary to what professors and TAs may believe, undergraduates are rarely so naive that they can't see academia for the corrupt, fraudulent institution that it is. When you take class after class without ever seeing a faculty member, you eventually understand that the university is dependent on a steady stream of grad-student suckers to do the grunt work while the tenured professors are off pursuing publishing glory. And after you've read some of the dreck that the tenured professors publish, and you've seen that the publications have little impact outside academia, and you've heard instructors poo-poo publications that were fashionable ten years ago, and you've grasped that their publications will be dismissed similarly in ten years, you begin to catch on.

    Undergraduates don't require great powers of observation to count all the TAs at their school, count the faculty, estimate how often a tenured job opens, and extrapolate to every college in the country. Nor do undergraduates who are burdened with student loans need far-reaching vision to see that academia is just another industry that is captive to Wall St., churning out a steady stream of debt for banks to securitize and sell, and a steady of stream of wage slaves to fill corporate cubicles as they dutifully service their debt.

    All of which brings us back to reason #1 not to attend grad school: The smart people are somewhere else. Yeah, and the really smart ones are selling the debt of their graduating class to Sallie Mae and taking a commission.

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  12. ^ this was good until the Wall St. conspiracy and wage-slave stuff. It's pretty obvious which majors will bring in money. The opportunities are available. I don't think 50k+ jobs are wage slavery.

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    1. They are when people are graduating with 100K in student loans.

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