Monday, November 14, 2011

72. The humanities and social sciences are in trouble.

Graduate students who receive funding from their universities are very fortunate (see Reason 17). To their universities, they are very expensive. Of course, grad students and adjuncts are cheaper to employ than professors, but universities are moving away from relying on tenured and tenure-track faculty to meet their instructional needs. More than three quarters of college teaching appointments are now held by graduate-student, part-time, and non-tenure-track instructors (see Reason 14). As a result, universities have come to regard graduate-student labor not as a bargain but as the norm, and they are beginning to identify which graduate students are the most cost-effective to keep on campus. Those in the humanities and social sciences are used to thinking of themselves as being inexpensive compared to their colleagues in the hard sciences, but when it comes to graduate students, it turns out that that is not the case at all.

In August 2011, Yale University released the results of a remarkable study of its own graduate school. Among other things, it found that even at Yale only 68% of those who had begun a PhD program in the humanities between 1996 and 2003 had earned a PhD by 2010 (see Reason 46). But most striking was a calculation of how much, on average, each Yale graduate student had cost the graduate school over a six-year period: $17,421 in the natural sciences, $126,339 in the social sciences, and $143,170 in the humanities. Graduate students in classics cost the university more than twenty times as much as graduate students in physics ($155,392 vs. $7,401). The numbers do not bode well for the social sciences and humanities. Disciplines that do not attract investment (see Reason 22) are looking more and more like unbearable financial burdens to the administrators of the modern university.

The terrible job market facing graduate students (see Reason 8) has never sufficed to convince universities to reduce the size of their graduate programs, but their own bottom line probably will. In the long run, the study may result in positive change if smaller graduate programs relieve pressure on the job market. For those already in the graduate-school pipeline, however, program cuts will only worsen the funding and employment situation. In its report on the study, the Yale Daily News quoted English Professor Mark Bauerlein of Emory University: “It just doesn’t make sense for people to go to school in the humanities.”



101 comments:

  1. How the @#$@ does a humanities student cost 150k? That's absurd. How much can it possibly cost to have a working building and some books in the library? There's either a lot of pork in the system -- say, useless admins that purportedly "cater" to these students -- or other corruption.

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  2. Did they count "expenses" like tuition waivers in the cost? Then presumably the cost is so high because hard science grad students are supported by their advisors' grants, whereas humanities students need internal support.

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  3. From the PDF report:

    "The net cost to the Graduate School per student over six years ranges from $400 to $177,000 per
    student (column 10 in Appendix 3). These net costs exclude pass-through tuition (tuition
    scholarships awarded to students by the Graduate School and then paid back to the University)
    but include tuition payments from outside sources. The annual cost to the Graduate School for
    each doctoral program (column 11 in Table 1) ranges from as little as $600 (when funds from
    external sources balance the University Fellowships awarded to students) to more than $3.7
    million. We accept the reality that the availability of funds from outside sources varies widely."

    I don't fully understand this (how are "tuition payments from outside sources" included as "net costs" to the GSAS?) But it does seem like NSF funds or other grants must be getting subtracted out for the science students. It would be good to have a better breakdown for these numbers.

    Whittaker

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  4. I also find it hard to believe a humanities grad student costs that much. I imagine the physics ones cost less because, as 11:28 said, their cost is offset by grants. All a humanities student needs is class space and access to the library and databases - those are all sunk costs. They don't need labs, they don't need equipment that needs replacing. At most a humanities student should cost $30K a year to fund, max. Why isn't the tuition of the students they teach used as an offset? The colleges have to be saving money using their labor.

    I don't know about Yale, but at the Comm Coll. where I work, social & behavioral sciences is one of the few departments that actually turns a profit. They teach hundreds of sections and a good 60%+ are taught by adjuncts. The school actually uses Soc. Sci. money to subsidize nursing, technology, etc..., which require small class sizes, labs, and constant replenishment of equipment/supplies.

    This all circles back to the humanities vs. sciences argument.

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  5. 12:39: maybe they include the price of full-time professors in the calculation? In any event, it seems like the study is almost designed to make the humanities look like a bad deal and the natural sciences to seem like a great deal. I wonder who sponsored it at Yale. You should read every "study" with a grain of salt as to who is investigating or funding it.

    I also don't think this argument is all that convincing because of the nature of the study.

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  6. "I also find it hard to believe a humanities grad student costs that much...At most a humanities student should cost $30K a year to fund, max."

    From the blogger's post:
    "But most striking was a calculation of how much, on average, each Yale graduate student had cost the graduate school over a SIX YEAR period (emphasis mine)." So divide those big numbers SS= $125K, Hum = $150 by six and that gets you the annual funding/student, which is < your $30K.

    What I find most interesting is that the social sciences are prettier close to the humanities, and pretty far from STEM. I feel like sometimes there's a dichotomy set up here with STEM and Humanities posited as opposite ends of the spectrum; social sciences get forgotten. But I think especially for those of us who do qualitative social science, we're a lot closer to humanities folks than is often admitted.

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  7. Those numbers seem nuts at first, but as an 8th year social sciences grad I've been expensive. 7 out of 8 years funded including: around $20k a year in stipend (I live in a high cost of living area where this is not unreasonably high), health insurance, and tuition remission, plus any other facilities and materials-related costs like office space, libraries, printing etc. I've easily cost my university closer to $200,000 total, and I'm at state u., not an elite private like Yale. In exchange I teach (or TA) one class per semester.

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    1. theamericanscholar.org/the-decline-of-the-english-department

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  8. @2:16, do you teach or TA under your stipend? If not, you're lucky. If so, your "stipend" is actually a salary for WORK you are doing for the university. That's an important distinction for prospective graduate students to be aware of. You think you're being "fully funded" because you're getting money to study, in exchange for teaching. In reality, you're getting paid WAY less than the lowest paid assistant prof in your department for doing a pretty similar job (i.e. doing research, writing, and teaching). The university doesn't give a shit that you don't have your credentials yet. They just want someone to teach for cheap. Graduate students are expensive? Ha! Not anywhere near as expensive as the tenure-track professors they should be hiring.

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  9. Well...believe me, I am the first to be cynical about the use of grad student teaching. But, there is a BIG difference for a grad student between teaching one class under a TAship and teaching as an adjunct. Like I said in my post, I teach or TA one class per semester. I don't have the numbers, so I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if the value of my teaching for the university is equivalent to what they are giving me in support. And don't forget, we are getting a degree out of this as well, which will hopefully lead to better career outcomes in the future. There is no reason why a grad student should have a salary equivalent to an assistant professor.

    This goes back to an ongoing theme on this blog, the divide between grad students who have been admitted to get the degree and enter the profession, and grad students who have been admitted in order to be "teaching fodder" (as someone else here has so aptly put it).

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  10. "This goes back to an ongoing theme on this blog, the divide between grad students who have been admitted to get the degree and enter the profession, and grad students who have been admitted in order to be "teaching fodder" (as someone else here has so aptly put it)."

    Yes, and the difference is knowing which you are. When I was admitted, the chair explained my package, which I now know was measly compared to the promises others' received (in terms of quarters of TAship promised). I actually picked my school because the better ranked school much closer to my home had a 50% attrition rate. I KNEW I'd be in that lower 50% because I'm older, have caregiving duties and health issues. What I didn't know is that even with a promise of X number of TAships, I'm still in the lower 50% at my current school, whether or not I finish. I'm older, geographically limited--they admitted me knowingtaht 1. there aren't enough jobs for all admits and
    2. I'd probably never get a job even if I did finish the degree but
    3. I'd come in handy as a TA in the meantime.

    I was admitted as teaching fodder.

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  11. A great many programs are all teaching fodder. These aren't just "lower tier" schools but very well respected public R1s. They couldn't function without graduate students teaching for the amount they are paid to do it. At elite schools where you might teach less and earn a little more, the assistant profs are making a lot more. And it isn't for teaching a lot more, either, because such places usually have 2/2 loads for tt profs. As for the degree being somehow compensation that will lead to a better career? That's kind of laughable these days. What career? The tenure track? Ha! Good luck getting off the adjunct track.

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  12. I tried to address the issue of the cost and benefits of a humanities degree on my blog recently.
    http://politicalpye.blogspot.com/2011/11/education-who-benefits.html

    My basic argument is that humanities degrees offer a lot of widespread benefits to society at large, but it's very hard for holder of those degrees to cash in on those benefits. With a degree in engineering, the benefit is a lot more localized.

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  13. "I argue that humanities degrees offer widespread benefits to society at large, but holders of those degrees cannot cash in on such benefits. The benefits of degrees in the hard sciences and engineering fields are more localized."

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  14. Universities aren't idiots. They wouldn't subsidizing so many grad students if it wasn't ultimately profitable for them. Nobody cares whether they admit 2 or 20 doctoral students. This reason is totally unconvincing, and the study is misleading at best.

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  15. The results of Yale's internal audit aren't surprising. A grad student's fellowship in biology can come straight out of one of her advisor's grants, whereas an English TA is paid from the university budget. The biology student is working for her stipend just like the English student. The difference is that Yale can get somebody else to pay for the biology student.

    What's surprising is that they made the data public. A lot of their own departments don't come away looking very good. It's hard to believe that they don't have changes in the works if they're willing to put this out there for the world to see. The question is, why is this happening at Yale? Don't they have more money than they know what to do with?

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  16. $100K or so might be what they pay out for a humanities or soc sci grad student, but they certainly get far more back than that in tuition. The first 4 humanities or soc sci undergrads who walk into the grad student's class in the FIRST semester of the year likely pay the TA's stipend. Let's say the next 3 pay health insurance benefits if they've got 'em. The rest of the students' tuitions -- upwards of 34 students at least -- are used to fund the rest of the institution (the administrators, residence life folk, rock climbing walls, physical plant, etc.) Critically, the tuition from humanities and soc sci undergrads subsidizes the more expensive educations of the STEM undergrads with their fancy labs and equipment and expensive TAs (the science faculty are not supposed to be funding TAs with research grants -- that's fraud).

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  17. Anon @ 1:17 AM wrote: "Critically, the tuition from humanities and soc sci undergrads subsidizes the more expensive educations of the STEM undergrads with their fancy labs and equipment and expensive TAs"

    I find this remark amusing. When I was in graduate school, we were told the exact opposite. We were told that the STEM departments on our campus brought in so much money from external sources that the STEM departments were in fact subsidizing the humanities departments. Perhaps we are all being misled by the campus bean counters.

    Both explanations seem way too simple to be true.

    While I know for certain that STEM departments bring much more grant money into a university each year than the humanities, a whole lot of that money must go to purchasing the required instrumentation and laboratory facilities.

    Back when I was in graduate school, it was common for the university to immediately take 50% of the face value of an incoming grant from a STEM professor and use it to cover "overhead". The STEM professor was then free to use the other half of the grant to purchase instrumentation and graduate labor. There were always bitter complaints about how the "overhead" was going to waste paying for all those graduate students over in the humanities, but given the complexity of maintaining a functioning science laboratory building, I think the STEM professors were just in denial about the true costs of running a good science program.

    It is important to note that when a STEM professor uses grant money to purchase graduate labor, this is in the form of a Research Assistant (RA) position. It is not in the form of a Teaching Assistant (TA) position. I do not recall ever hearing of a STEM department using research grant money to pay for a TA position. The TA money always came from a different budget, not from the STEM professor's grant money.

    If your STEM graduate advisor was "grant rich", you enjoyed the benefit of NOT having to teach the lowly undergraduates. If your STEM graduate advisor was "grant poor", then you knew you would be spending a lot of your time interacting with the brainless wonders in the low level laboratory courses, and such "poor" professors had a harder time attracting the best graduate students to their research group. But in the end, all of the STEM graduate students got paid (either by TA or RA funds), and finances were never really a concern. On one occasion, I recall a professor "punishing" a lazy graduate student by denying him RA funds for a semester and requiring him to take a TA position until he got more serious about his research project, but I digress...

    Getting back to the main point of the blogger's post, whoever did this big study on the cost of humanities graduate students versus the cost of STEM graduate students must have been taking into account the huge amount of external funding brought into a university by the STEM faculty. I can see no other reason for the significant cost difference.

    But I really have to wonder if they are taking into account the cost of the facilities and instrumentation. These days, in order to remain competitive, most major universities seem to be throwing millions and millions of dollars at erecting incredible new laboratory buildings. I like to call them temples of science. They are places of worship for the scientific priesthood who hold such sway over our society now that our society has lost interest in religion and the humanities. These new temples cost big bucks and I shudder to think how much of the university budget is going to debt service on these projects. If this were factored into the equation, I wonder if the the STEM graduate students would still look inexpensive compared to the humanities.

    But, I must admit, the new lab buildings are really sweet. Some even have built-in coffee shops and internet cafes. Back in my day, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the Student Union when we wanted coffee.

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  18. @ Anon 1:17 AM

    I heartily agree. The math of undergrad tuition works out incredibly favorably to non-humanities/social science students.

    Imagine XYZ University has 1 accounting professor per 20 accounting majors and 1 history professor per 20 history majors. The STEM professors are going to be earning several times the income of humanities professors, and working in better facilities, newer classrooms, with better job placement organizations for their undergrad students.

    Let's say Johny is paying $30,000 a year toward his history degree and Sally is paying $30,000 a year toward her accounting degree. Because it only costs the university $50k/yr to pay for the history professor versus $140k/yr to pay for the accounting professor (assuming equal professor/majors ratios), Johny will undoubtedly be subsidizing Sally.

    It's an irony that one would hope would wake up the arts & science crowd. Their entire existence, at least at the undergrad level, is for the purpose of subsiziding the vastly more expensive STEM fields. This truly is the central reason that the A&S crowd is maintained despite decades of reducing its value to students at the university level.

    The sad fact is, universities "need" that 40%++ of undergraduates (i.e. A&S students) whose education expenses consist entirely of older buildings and cheap professors. You would think that the liberal, activist students so hell-bent on complaining about "the rich" would realize that they will be subsidizing their future-rich STEM friends with their student loans for decades.

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  19. "But, I must admit, the new lab buildings are really sweet. Some even have built-in coffee shops and internet cafes. Back in my day, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the Student Union when we wanted coffee."

    Ha ha--yeah, the new STEM temple on our campus has a little cafe with a brie and apple panini. It's crappy, but not as crappy as the stale muffins and french fries made with rancid oil across the quad.

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    1. WTF is a university doing with a cafe offering a brie and apple panini?!?!?! Have someone's cogs completely slipped or what?

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  20. This is something that definitely does not apply to STEM! Well, not yet, at least. With the way the Government has flooded the market with artificially cheap student loans, which, in turn has flooded the market with students, it's only a matter of time before this applies STEM disciplines--if it hasn't happened already.

    I have recently heard that there's a shortage of "blue-collar" workers--workers that can weld, or run a bulldozer, or machine a part, or install a cabinet--and this is yet another example of how distorted these student loans have made things. I have come to the conclusion that my PhD in math is woefully incomplete because I have not yet learned a trade--something that I can do with my hands.

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    1. There's no real shortage of blue-collar workers. The US has the most welcoming immigration "system" on the planet and even welcomes illegal immigrants with open arms and goodies.

      No other country in the world does this on as great a scale.

      We annually admit far more people than there are jobs created.

      Because of this and the overall global economic slowdown, there are virtually no upward pressures on wages. Wages have not kept pace with inflation for many years. We have extremely high levels of "unofficial" unemployment. Thanks to the ACA (Obamacare), most jobs created are now part-time. The workforce participation rate is the lowest it's been in decades.

      Hence, "blue-collar worker shortage" is a fiction. Just like "STEM worker shortage" is a fiction. Both have been used to game US immigration policy for over two decades.

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  21. messages we need to send to young people:

    "don't go to college unless you're gifted or seem capable of it."

    "and, no, you can't be a doctor or a lawyer or some other white collar desk job."

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7504120

    the football player analogy here is dead on. we have no trouble telling kids they're not cut out to play football -- I was told that many times, by everyone. but the minute you tell a kid he can't go to college, it's an insult.

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  22. C'mon people, the idea that humanities students are somehow subsidizing STEM programs is laughable. If humanities departments are so valuable to the university why are they under attack? Why would SUNY Albany eliminate their French, Italian and Russian departments altogether?

    Tuition dollars only make up a fraction of the contemporary university's budget. If you look at a typical state university's budget, between 15-30% of the revenue comes from tuition. The rest comes from state and federal grants, appropriations, and research grants, both private and public. The reality is STEM programs bring in lots of outside money, humanities do not. That is why they have the fancy facilities with the fancy cafes and the humanities kids get greasy french fries served in a dilapidated building.

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  23. "we have no trouble telling kids they're not cut out to play football -- I was told that many times, by everyone. but the minute you tell a kid he can't go to college, it's an insult."

    This isn't the only problem: we can't seem to tell our kids that they *are* cut-out to be mechanics, plumbers, carpenters and machinists. Somehow, as a society, we got it into our heads that we need to be educated as a white-collar worker to succeed in life...and if we're doing work with a bit of manual labor, we've somehow "failed".

    Earlier, I blamed artificially easy-to-get student loans on our problems; the rational for those loans has been "Everyone needs a college education!"

    We don't *need* a college education. We need people who can figure out what they enjoy doing, and who can then figure out how they can do that to help other people, so that they can earn a living from that. When government steps in and says "We need people to do X!" you can be certain that we're going to get too many people doing X, and not enough doing Y.

    So, are we getting ready for the Blue Collar worker bubble, that will likely swell in the next twenty to thirty years? :-)

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  24. the reality is that science programs do useful work. humanities students read old books.
    even if academic studies are grossly inefficient, science = useful; humanities = fun for shits and giggles

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    1. Who says science isn't fun for shits and giggles, not to mention staggeringly wasteful?

      "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation", Polar Biology, 2003
      “Whether the bird deliberately chooses the direction into which it decides to expel its faeces or whether this depends on the direction from which the wind blows at the time of evacuation are questions that need to be addressed on another expedition to Antarctica.” - Yeah, that's more important than promoting literacy, any day - and our government will fund this to find out which way the shit blows. Shits and giggles indeed.


      "Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?" Evolution and Human Behavior, 2007
      The grant money was issued in $1 bills to the researchers and subsequently to the test subjects.

      "Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, vol. 31, no. 1, January 2005
      Because we had to know whether rats really could understand Japanese spoken backwards. .eiI ?Ak used iiorihsomo omettoM However, indications are that backmasked Japanese heavy metal will not induce satanic rioting by rat hordes. Kind of pointless given that it was demonstrated in the movie "Rock and Roll High School" that exposure to the music of the Ramones caused lab rats to vanish in little puffs of smoke.

      "Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour"
      - Journal of Experimental Biology 2008
      With added cocaine, honey bees are more likely to dance and dance with increased frenzy. Future studies may involve building little discotheques.

      "During 2012, the National Science Foundation gave researchers at Purdue University $350,000... part of that money to help fund a study that discovered that if golfers imagine that a hole is bigger it will help them with their putting." What are the other practical applications of this? The mind boggles.

      "Climate Change in the American Mind" Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication
      - Because money needs to be spent on basic scientific research outlining exactly why Americans are becoming increasingly leery of the climate change paradigm. Better propaganda is needed, and NSF dollars must be spent to develop it!

      S. M. McGinn, D. Turner, N. Tomkins, E. Charmley, G. Bishop-Hurley, D. Chen. Methane Emissions from Grazing Cattle Using Point-Source Dispersion. Journal of Environment Quality, 2011; 40 (1): 22
      "...technique centered on using open-path lasers to obtain a short-term measurement of methane release from an entire grazing herd..." Now THAT's fun for shits and giggles. Better than watching pot smoke in the laser show at a BOC concert in the 70s.

      Science = useful, my ass. Especially when tax $$$ get thrown around.

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  25. "The reality is STEM programs bring in lots of outside money, humanities do not. That is why they have the fancy facilities with the fancy cafes and the humanities kids get greasy french fries served in a dilapidated building."

    So the rest of us deserve the rancid french fries?

    I think anomenon probably has a better grasp of the economics of the academy than some other posters above, but I'm not sure that it logically follows that the rest of us should therefore toil in underfunded squalor as a result of those economic disparities.

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  26. To Epsilon Given:

    I completely agree; more college-bound students need to reevaluate their motivations for enrolling BEFORE they enroll. Not everyone needs to or should be in college (not because they can't but because they will water down the market, and worse, be unsatisfied with their "career"), and as a society we need to admit and accept that.

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  27. "I completely agree; more college-bound students need to reevaluate their motivations for enrolling BEFORE they enroll. Not everyone needs to or should be in college (not because they can't but because they will water down the market, and worse, be unsatisfied with their "career"), and as a society we need to admit and accept that."

    It would certainly make teaching and TAing more satisfying if only the students who were genuinely motivated and had intellectual ability went to college. But this will never happen. A BA serves as a marker of class mobility, which Americans still believe in for some reason. Even budget cuts and swiftly rising tuitions, which may curb college admissions somewhat, won't solve the above program--many of my biggest dummies and most entitled little jackasses appear to be members of the spoiled rich. They won't stop coming because it's about pedigree.

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  28. "I'm not sure that it logically follows that the rest of us should therefore toil in underfunded squalor as a result of those economic disparities."

    I think a big point of this blog -- probably one that is more valuable than any as a take-away -- is that the humanities are in the same capitalist bubble as any other vocation, despite an odd perception (mostly by humanities profs/students) that they aren't. You're selling the service of teaching through a third-party, the university, and if business ain't good, then neither is your ability to make a living.

    Now, if there was a private sector for teaching, or you could somehow do so independently, then it would be a different story.

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  29. Again, most people here are engaging in the circular argument of STEM vs. Humanities as if they are the light and dark side of the Force fighting for complete dominance.

    It's not like that. The two compliment each other. Come on people, Steve Jobs just died. He was on record very clearly about the importance of a liberal arts approach to computing, without which, Apple would have been another nerdy venture that petered out. A humanistic interface, beautiful fonts, design - focusing on how the device LOOKs. That calligraphy class that inspired him is the first all of you would have on the chopping block.

    An acting class might help you respond to and improvise for an audience when making a sales pitch.

    That cultural anthropology class might prevent you from making a major protocol faux pas when your company tries to expand into Indonesia.

    Those of you pushing vocations - that's great, but it's considerably more expensive than, say, teaching English Lit. Again, I adjunct at two community college systems and and am friendly with the administration at both. Lib Arts/Soc science depts at both make money. The state mandates a core curriculum - on average 60-70% of those sections are taught by adjuncts. Tuition is about $425 per student. That's about $15,000 of revenue from tuition alone times hundreds of sections. What's the overhead? Adjunct rate is $2600 per class, class max is 35 students, almost all sections fill up. A classroom, and maybe a computer and projector in the classrooms. Those are sunk costs. So after they pay the stipend the colleges are making $12K per class in tuition revenue.

    Nursing / EMT? Small classes - <15, more expensive instruction, lots of medical equipment and supply costs.

    Robotics? Again, small classes, lots of equipment, power, labs, instructor pay, etc...

    Welding? Even smaller classes.

    Media tech? Not as bad, but same problems with instruction, equipment, supplies.

    Tuition is the same for those except add lab costs - an extra couple hundred per. The vocational programs for the most part run deficits. For them to make money tuition for those would have to increase by a considerable amount, putting it out of reach for the kind of people that want it.

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  30. "This isn't the only problem: we can't seem to tell our kids that they *are* cut-out to be mechanics, plumbers, carpenters and machinists."

    This is what they do in Europe. By age 13 or 14 you're given some tests and it's determined whether or not you're college material. Don't pass the tests? You're on vocational track and there's no going back. Apprenticeship by age 16.

    However, it takes freedom out of the equation, something Americans don't like. Also a lot of pressure on pre-teens that we don't prepare them for. Now, is their system more efficient? Hell, yes. That way you only teach to the smart & motivated kids, a teacher's dream. Despite this, most of those countries still have chronic unemployment, which leads me to believe it's not necessarily the education system that's the problem.

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    1. Having lived and been to the equivalent of high school in Europe (actually Norway, there is no single "Europe system"), I take strong exception to the idea that "their system is more efficient," a meme that even teachers at said high school would have taken issue with.

      Also, with such a system, just you wait until race enters the picture. That's a principal reason why such a track system would be unworkable politically in the US.

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  31. Adjuncts are way cheaper than grad students in the classroom, so it's only a matter of time before cash-strapped universities quit funding TA's (who have health insurance) and replace them with adjuncts (who don't). The adjuncts have better qualifications on paper anyway. Plus, there's an endless supply of them.

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  32. "The reality is STEM programs bring in lots of outside money, humanities do not. That is why they have the fancy facilities with the fancy cafes and the humanities kids get greasy french fries served in a dilapidated building."

    So the rest of us deserve the rancid french fries?"


    Anon 9:59, I wasn't suggesting that they deserve it, and I didn't intend my comments to sound that way. I believe there is tremendous value to the humanities, but unfortunately that value usually is not measured in dollars, and this is realized in tangible drawbacks for students in today's universities.

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  33. Thanks for the clarification. Honestly, at this point I care more about the quality of my french fries than finishing my useless, expensive, won't-help-me-find-a-job-ever degree.

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  34. @Aaron g
    That's a bunch of bs. That's not how it works in my European country. Unlike you I can't speak for all of Europe so please let me know which country you are referring to.

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  35. I've mentioned before that my company creates products (and therefore jobs) and that it is largely STEM based. That said, I have a few points to make in support of the humanities...

    1) Steve Jobs had it right. Even when selling something highly technical, customers prefer a product with elegant design (let's hear it for the art majors!)

    2) My customers demand proper human-readable documentation (let's hear it for the English majors and technical writers!)

    3) My customers respond to a well run marketing campaign with and awesome website and lots of glossy marketing flyers (let's hear it for the web page designers, product photographers, and advertising agencies!)

    4) My customers respond to on-site demonstrations of our STEM-based products (let's hear it for the traveling salespeople!)

    If I had to rely solely upon my technical staff for (1) through (4) above, we would be sunk as a company. We need the humanities because business is built on the backs of personal relationships, and personal relationships are not reducible to a set of cold, harsh STEM-based equations.

    The most valuable employees in my company are those with strong STEM backgrounds who also know how to relate to people and how to write clearly and how to engage in a bit of real-world marketing.

    Unfortunately, many of the potential pool of STEM employees do not have the skills to write properly or relate to anything other than a machine, computer, or scientific instrument. Furthermore, many STEM candidates have a negative view of the humanities. This negative view comes from the total BS that they were exposed to in their few undergraduate humanities courses. The politically-correct, anti-capitalist, agenda-driven manner in which humanities courses are taught in today's university turns off most STEM students. Once they realize that their humanities professors are streaming a bunch of political BS, they just slog through the minimum number of required humanities courses and turn their attention to the solid food offered to them in their STEM courses and never look back.

    Someone earlier put it best: The humanities professors did them to themselves the moment they started deconstructing western civilization.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Oh, come on STEM Doctor. You've made some good points about the value of the humanities in the "real world," and as someone who now also works outside academe, I completely agree with that list. However, you can't have it both ways: On the one hand, humanities teach people useful skills and insights, but, on the other, the professors are all full of bullshit.

    What I observed during the 10 years I taught in higher ed as a grad student and adjunct was that STEM students who engaged with the readings and discussions and applied themselves to the assignments got good grades and acquired the skills you describe. A fair number, though, started from day one with the idea that humanities courses were a bullshit waste of time and never put in more effort than the minimum required to pass the course. They DIDN'T acquire the skills you describe. And, as you say, there are a great many STEM job candidates you encounter who don't have the humanities skills you want in an employee.

    The attitudes and behaviors I observed were in writing courses in which students chose their own research topics. The subject of the course was rhetoric -- how to use a particular set of skills and strategies to make an argument and understand the arguments of others. "Deconstructing Western civilization" wasn't a part of it. The STEM students who did well most often chose topics related to their majors (e.g. the aerospace engineering major who chose to research and write about the controversy over manned space flight). Everyone was required to write papers arguing positions they agreed with AND arguing the other side, the side they disagreed with. To get a good grade, they had to do well on BOTH. Personal politics wasn't part of the equation.

    So, what I'm saying is that the attitude among STEM students that the humanities are a bullshit waste of time is a pervasive problem and is independent of the course material or a particular professor's politics.

    Humanities professors didn't do themselves and their disciplines in because they were indoctrinating STEM students. Their failure has been in their complicity and complacency with a hierarchical and exploitative system, despite leftist political views. The problem is with hypocrisy, not deconstruction.

    ReplyDelete
  37. "The attitudes and behaviors I observed were in writing courses in which students chose their own research topics. The subject of the course was rhetoric -- how to use a particular set of skills and strategies to make an argument and understand the arguments of others. "Deconstructing Western civilization" wasn't a part of it. The STEM students who did well most often chose topics related to their majors (e.g. the aerospace engineering major who chose to research and write about the controversy over manned space flight). Everyone was required to write papers arguing positions they agreed with AND arguing the other side, the side they disagreed with. To get a good grade, they had to do well on BOTH. Personal politics wasn't part of the equation."

    This sounds like a great way to teach writing. But I don't think this approach would be rewarded in my highly political (soft) social science department. I'm progressive and I'm still choking on the politics. Lefties are no less obnoxious than conservatives, they just want to kill you for different reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I'm definitely liberal, but I don't think I could indoctrinate my students even if I tried. I have trouble getting them to understand what capitalism IS (most of them don't get it), much less explain and then indoctrinate them into socialism - a critique of capitalism.

    In basic psychology you learn that people's worldviews are largely driven by personality type, and by one's early 20s, these fundamental views are very difficult to dislodge.

    I suppose in teaching U.S. history, there is some bias in what I choose to include and not include, ie: I spend 20 minutes on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, but probably less time on the entire Warren Harding administration. But you know, I find students get into the Triangle Fire a lot more than 1920s republican politics. But I fail to see how that could be construed as anti-capitalist.

    I went to 3 different colleges getting my BA and MA, and the worst bias I can recall was one professor telling us we should read the New York Times rather than watch Fox News and another making some joke about John Ashcroft.

    And like recent PhD, there are numerous opportunities for students to give their own opinions where they are graded not on their particular conclusion but whether they marshaled evidence to support it.

    ReplyDelete
  39. This is Anon 1:17 AM here.

    Sorry to have checked out for so long. I want to clarify 3 points. First, few STEM grants come with 50% overhead -- the big government grants like NHS, NSF, sure, but not the majority. This leaves the university picking up the tab for the expensive lab equipment, etc. Administrators want to develop their STEM faculty into big grant and patent machines to try to snare external sources of funding.

    Administrators are sometimes really stupid and cut programs because of idiotic markers like relatively low numbers of majors. They then might go on to keep the faculty to teach core requirements. Other times, they get rid of the labor-intensive programs like languages, because it's damn near impossible even to pretend teach a language to a lecture hall of 100, 200 or even 1,000 (Arizona State) undergrads as many humanities folk pretend to teach to such large groups. They'll then transfer those faculty lines over to STEM or business.

    Finally, I don't mean to attack STEM faculty or students. As someone in the humanities, some of my best, most engaged students have been STEM undergrads. The STEM scholars I know are mostly working on really cool topics and are great in conversation. I don't want to pull the STEM part of campus down, I want us all to be treated better.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I find it absurd that there are people here who claim that some kids should not go to college. Everyone should be able to go to college, no matter what they end up doing afterwards. And they should be able to do so for free.

    ReplyDelete
  41. To "recent PhD": I'm sorry to inadvertently offend, but I'm just speaking from experience.

    One of my overtly liberal history TAs spent the entire semester spouting off about the evils of the US system. On one exam, he asked an open ended question about the history of the US meddling in South American affairs. I knew his bitter and angry political position well, so I gave him what he wanted to hear. I even made up stuff about invasions of South American countries that never actually occurred. He ate it up. Got my A+. Pretty cool. Didn’t take long to figure out how to succeed in my liberal arts courses.

    One of my overtly liberal English professors spent the entire course discussing his particular philosophy of life...he was an existentialist. One of my fellow STEM students and I sat in the back, and for the first week or so, we tried in vain to follow his line of reasoning. Eventually, we figured out he was another nut job and determined we could (once again) write just about any pseudo-intellectual drivel on our essay exams and get a good grade. One thing I have to hand to this guy, however, is that he truly believed in Sartre and the rest of the confused existentialist gang. He sadly went the distance and eventually killed himself, just like his confused hero did. Glad I didn’t take him seriously and follow after him.

    One of my overtly liberal philosophy professors spent most of his time in my “Philosophy of Science” course talking about narrow-minded conservatives and the foolishness of religion. He was so unhinged that (once again) you could write whatever drivel you wanted on the exam and get a good grade. [Ironically, the one and only useful thing I learned from him was the Karl Popper “Falsifiability” distinction between hard science and metaphysics...a very useful razor for dividing between good and bad (politically motivated) science.]

    I wish that I could also tell some stories about one of my overtly conservative professors, but the fact is, I never had one on the humanities side of campus. In all of my history, political science, philosophy, English, and foreign language classes, I received a steady diet of mush. I don’t think I’m the first person to notice that much of what we call “humanities” in the academy has become politicized. (The same thing might happen to the STEM side if it weren’t for the persistent anchor of cold, hard reality that a STEM researcher encounters each and every time s/he goes into the lab. The atoms and molecules simply have no political agenda.)

    Despite all that I have written above, I strongly believe we still need the humanities for all the reasons listed in my earlier post. But we need humanities departments that are anchored to something other than mumbo jumbo (see Reason 35). The humanities are in trouble because they are drowning in agenda-driven nonsense. They are killing themselves by making themselves irrelevant to anything out in the real world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @stem doctor:

      What foreign language(s) did you do? I am sure you are aware about how VIGOROUS they are if you wish to be PROFESSIONALLY-accredited:

      [ supportservices.org.au/noticeboard/file?id=b5a9edabc65a73e41b933245cb3b563e&file=file ]

      [ atanet.org/certification/certification_FAQ.php ]

      Delete
  42. STEM doc,

    Usually I feel like you inject some compassion and reason into the comments section of this blog, urging other STEM folks not to bludgeon those of us for whom this blog is actually intended. What happened?

    That said, I've almost mustered the courage to leave my sociology grad program. The reason? It's utter horseshit. All politics and jargon, but no substance. Feminist Studies, where I also work, is even worse. When I was an undergrad in psych, we had a 6 unit (quarter units) research methods class that almost killed us. We actually had to know things. The research methods classes for our soc undergrads are basically of the "turn to your partner and give him/her your opinion" variety--lots of filler, lots of urging to "be critical," but no real substance. Most of the classes in our department are like this.

    Another thing I can get away with saying, since this thing is anonymous, is that the practices around race are ridiculous in my department. First time out TAing, the grad student lecturer raised an African American jock's final grade from a C- (already a gift) to a B-, despite zero displays of interest or ability on his part. Actually, he was interested in being cut a break, but not in turning in anything competent or remotely on time. It was an outright bump based on race--I know--I was there. Meanwhile, Radical Prof of Color So-and-So is allowed to screen out white grad students from his/her Such-and-Such seminar, the Latino TA I'm working with bullies me into taking students she has promised a space in my section for without asking me, claiming to be some sort of cultural broker for them because they're "from Mexico" and don't feel they can approach me (forcing me not to add students I've already spoken to or risk being called a racist), and even though we're urged not to grade the hundreds of writing assignments we grade in any way related to the quality of writing (grammar, spelling are irrelevant as it would be "unfair") I catch a blatant cut-and-paste-the-entire-paper-from-the-Internet plagiarizer. I put in a full dozen hours documenting this in detail (and don't say that's ridiculous, I tallied the time including endless meetings) and the academic integrity officer makes these big doe eyes at me and asks me if the student is and ESL student, as if ESL students are idiots who simply don't know better, or the student should be given a break despite blatant cheating. We could go on and on...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The same thing happens in sciences and engineering. We are giving the store away to international students who cut, paste and cheat their way through graduate degree programs.

      Delete
    2. University of New South Wales (UNSW) alumnusNovember 22, 2014 at 6:20 AM

      @Anonymous (June 1, 2013 at 1753 hours)

      [ smh.com.au/national/education/academics-accuse-universities-of-addiction-to-international-students-and-their-cheating-20141112-11lbdi.html ]

      [ smh.com.au/news/Opinion/No-time-to-learn-for-learnings-sake-when-a-degree-is-at-stake/2005/06/02/1117568316670.html ]

      [ overland.org.au/2011/02/‘oh-the-humanities’-or-a-critique-of-crisis ]
      – that mentioned, I reckon you know what I mean when I state (no pun intended) to somebody who hailed from Victoria, British Columbia (BC) that "Australia is NOT Canada".

      Delete
  43. "I find it absurd that there are people here who claim that some kids should not go to college. Everyone should be able to go to college, no matter what they end up doing afterwards. And they should be able to do so for free."

    Why? Why should everyone be able to go to college, regardless of interest in being there or ability to do college level work? I deferred college for a decade after high school and only went later--on my own dime--when I was genuinely interested. I excelled. If I had squeezed my cash-strapped parents for tuition right out of high school, I would have been wasting their money and my time. I wasn't mature, focused, interested. I would have spent all my time drinking and chasing boys.

    I don't dispute that college should be free (grad school too). But if you've ever looked out at a sea of petulant, uninterested kids playing with their electronic devices and talking over your lecture then asking you to repeat points they just missed while audibly denigrating you to their friends, you know why some kids should just stay home instead (or go to the country club, or beach, or pub, or whatever the little fuckers really want to do instead of sitting in class availing themselves of the opportunity to learn something).

    ReplyDelete
  44. 4:57: wait, chasing boys? What's there to chase? Just open your legs and they'll come running. Men aren't difficult to please.

    Chasing women makes sense, because they like to feel the interest, but chasing boys is just a function of this b.s. political correctness we have as a society. Can we PLEASE just acknowledge that men and women are different creatures?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Chasing boys" was good enough for Nancy Kwan in Lt. Robinson Crusoe... (1967, Disney).

      Delete
  45. 4:57: kids aren't mature enough to realize that education, and especially subsidized education courtesy of the national bank of mom and dad, is a major privilege that many people would kill for. Even wilder is the privilege to study a subject like literature or anthropology for three or four years! How many people in human history have been able to do that?!

    Yet our society insists that some kids who have never worked a minute in their lives go to this when they are least able to comprehend the beauty of this system!

    I studied English as an undergraduate, and didn't pursue it further. But I feel like it's only now -- many years later -- that I've really started to read deeply and well.

    ReplyDelete
  46. This quote should be in giant letters on any university:

    "I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's an interesting quote, but it just doesn't work this way anymore. Your political science degree may get you a job cleaning up at Starbucks. If you study military science - and use it - you'll probably end up worse off, and so will your kids even presuming you ever get financially secure enough to have any.

      What comes closest to securing the opportunities of the next generation is wealth and connections in the preceding one. It's that simple, and without them, there is nothing but ever more impoverished servitude.

      Delete
  47. Above, someone mentioned that Europe tests their children, and then puts them "on track" for whatever they "test positive" for. While I am *for* recognizing the importance of Trades, I am completely against this: we need the freedom to choose for ourselves what we want to do. Sometimes, what we want to do doesn't fit in a single "box" that everyone wants to put us in. These tests prevent us from exploring ideas, and mixing and matching.

    Besides, whoever said that a "Humanities" or a "STEM" education is incompatible with a "Trades" one? If I had my way, I'd have everyone learn all three. And as previous comments have pointed out, there's value in all three. I, for one, would like to accept apprentice mathematicians, and while apprenticing them, I'll be reading literature and history and exploring science, as well as trying to make and/or fix things.

    But we'd be doing all these things on our own terms, not on the terms of some college curriculum. (I'm sure we'd look at a curriculum now and again, to take the good from them, and to mock the bad.)

    With regards to politics: as an undergraduate, I encountered the occasional snide comment made against Conservatism, even from my math professors; I went to a Utah college, though, and I also took a just-barely-more-than-minimum number of classes required in the humanities. I wanted to take at least a few more, but I was also busy working on my major and minors. (Come to think of it, "Music" is certainly a humanities minor.)

    Even at SUNY Albany, I only encountered Leftist politics when I saw them on other professors' doors as I explored the campus; there was one math professor who would post conservative articles on his door.

    In STEM, it's easier to ignore politics, one way or another, because data (and theorems especially) don't give a darn about what people think.

    As for education being free of cost: why should it? The education bubble is what it is because of *reduced* cost of education--or at least, a reduced immediate cost, by making student loans cheaper than they should be. Educating *everyone* isn't going to fix the problem!

    Education is NOT a right, it is a duty. We have been pushing this "right" thing so much that we've shredded education to bits. If more of us understood that education is to be earned by a combination of hard work to pay for it, and hard work by studying our butts off to learn the material, then we'd all be better off--and those who don't do the hard work, generally deserve to live in ignorance. Education isn't a "right" that can be force-fed to everyone--and attempting to force-feed it has led to a large number of distortions that harm everyone involved.

    ReplyDelete
  48. @ STEM Dr. 8:42

    Good God. If you took one of my essay exams and, as you did in your post, conflated anti-imperialism, existentialism, and atheism under the vague, umbrella term of "liberal," I probably would mark those paragraphs "be more clear," and "confused." You probably would pass with a C because I do grade inflate for coherently written sentences. But I digress.

    "I even made up stuff about invasions of South American countries that never actually occurred. He ate it up. Got my A+."

    There was an inordinate amount of U.S. meddling in Latin America between the 1880s and 1930s, the most egregious being Woodrow Wilson's 1914 intervention in Mexico, declaring "I am going to teach the Latin American republics to elect good men!"

    It's not liberal to point out the truth. Why don't you look up "Charlemagne Peralte" and find out what U.S. Marines did to him? The bigger problem is that your TA didn't seem to know his subject.

    "confused existentialist gang."

    Existentialism is a legitimate philosophical concept. If your prof ended up killing himself, being "liberal" was the least of his problems.

    In my philosophy class, which was probably one of the best of my 1st two years of college, we read Plato, Kant, Hume, and Camus. I don't know why yours sucked.

    The fact that even KNOWING about things like Camus, Marx, the 1915-1934 U.S. occupation of Haiti, etc... is derided as "liberal" in today's society is a big part of the reason humanities and liberal arts education is in crisis.

    "The humanities are in trouble because they are drowning in agenda-driven nonsense."

    You seem to be the one with an agenda here. You went into it very closed minded and arrogant based on how you described your classroom conduct. I get students like yourself on a regular basis and they never get A's; I see right through them. Sadly enough, they do pass if they can write sentences.

    "wish that I could also tell some stories about one of my overtly conservative professors, but the fact is, I never had one on the humanities side of campus."

    I knew no less than 10, I can give you their e-mails so you can swap conspiracy theories about liberal indoctrination. At my alma mater you could tell which cars in the faculty lot belonged to the political science profs because they were the ones with Bush or McCain stickers on them.

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    1. University of NSW alumnusNovember 22, 2014 at 6:07 AM

      @Aaron G:

      I refer to your comment: "The bigger problem is that your [Teaching Assistant] didn't seem to know his subject. "

      I had one (an Indian national) who REFUSE to acknowledge my answer that "Romanian" was a Latin (Romance) language at a political science class approximately over a decade ago when he asked the tutorial who knew what "Latin" Languages were.

      Delete
    2. My last experience with an Indian national TA involved an essay question on a homework set. Answering the question from the course reading was insufficient - unless you went to the secret internet site (unknown to most of the students in the class save one - you guessed it - another Indian national) that gave an answer *AND PRINTED OUT THE PAGE AS YOUR RESPONSE* no credit was given.

      Delete
  49. The Yale Daily News also ran an earlier story about the grad school report that captured some of the initial reactions to it. It's evident that:

    1) Faculty were clueless about the numbers before the report came out.

    2) The report put humanities faculty on the defensive.

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/aug/31/pollard-releases-statistics/

    An important finding was that STEM students got through Ph.D. programs faster, and that the programs that got students through faster also had fewer drop-outs. All Yale grad students are given full funding for 5 years, which makes the time-to-degree difference more interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  50. You have a great blog here, but you know, I wish I saw this BEFORE I went to law school. Maybe there will be some lucky kids who will see this and actually think about the advice you are giving before jumping into the shark tank.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Regarding which which grad students cost more, the reality is that most universities are NOT like Yale and have PhD students perform some kind of work--either in the classroom or for a faculty member's research. In addition, tuition waivers look expense on paper but just involve moving money into faculty salaries and departmental budgets to teach and advise students they wouldn't have around if they dropped the PhD program. Grad students look expensive, but they are cheaper than alternative labor sources and (in the spirit of circularity) justify hiring top researchers.

    More poigniantly, the number of grad students in the US is clearly unethical. This needs to be loudly repeated over and over so smart undergrads get the message and policy makers and administrators feel some pressure.

    ReplyDelete
  52. "More poigniantly, the number of grad students in the US is clearly unethical. This needs to be loudly repeated over and over so smart undergrads get the message and policy makers and administrators feel some pressure."

    YES!

    Interestingly, I have written a number of letters of rec over the years for a variety of venues (professional school, law school, grad school, EAP, sorority membership, Teach for America, etc.). I have written letters for some of my top students--BUT NEVER FOR GRAD SCHOOL. Their letters are always for something else, and I'm so grateful the really good ones are takin' their brains (and money) somewhere else (Reason #1) and saving themselves unlike the rest of us dunces.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Everyone must check out this video! What a wake-up call!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZtX32sKVE&feature=pyv&ad=6739540474&kw=university

    ReplyDelete
  54. Aaron G said to STEM Doctor: "You seem to be the one with an agenda here. You went into it very closed minded and arrogant based on how you described your classroom conduct. I get students like yourself on a regular basis and they never get A's; I see right through them. Sadly enough, they do pass if they can write sentences."

    Yes, I was a close-minded and arrogant little jerk when I was a STEM undergraduate. But the stories I'm telling are true. The point is that I got away with my conduct and my professors were glad to give me high grades for echoing drivel back to them. They should have nailed my butt, but they didn't.

    Undergraduates are quick to realize what they can get away with doing (or not doing). A busy STEM undergrad is rapidly able to tell when s/he can get away with minimal effort in a humanities course and will usually take advantage of such an opportunity in order to focus on the more challenging effort required in his/her STEM courses.

    It sounds like I would have had a much better experience with a professor like you. Sadly, it has only been later in life (long after my undergraduate years) that I have been able to have time to develop an appreciation for the humanities. These days I love history, politics, philosophy, etc., but back then I couldn't have given a flying flip about these courses or the agendas of my professors.

    There is apparently a problem with the way humanities are treated by the academy. Otherwise, I suppose we wouldn't be up to 72 reasons (so far) to avoid getting a degree in the humanities. And otherwise, my training as an undergraduate might have taught me not to conflate liberalism, existentialism, and many-other-isms, even when limited to 4096 characters in a blog comment.

    Again, I will state that we desperately need the humanities, and my best STEM employees are those who are able to communicate with other human beings and not just the machines in the lab.

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    1. To "stem doctor":

      [ lambdassociates . org / blog / decline . htm ]

      Note that this article was written by a former Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) academic – I am sure that will satiate EVERYBODY'S HONOUR.

      Delete
  55. About the STEM Doc, Aaron G, and Recent Phd controversy, I could say (in typically humanities fashion!) that you're all partly right and wrong. But I won't.

    What I think the issue is here, is that the English department is split (and the cleft is ever widening even as I write) between the kind of technical, formal work that STEM Doc is talking about valuing in his colleagues with humanities backgrounds, and the abstract, content based stuff that's cast here (and elsewhere) as liberal in terms of politics and confused in terms of philosophy.

    This split is between classes that focus on composition and rhetoric, and literary studies in English departments. While those two are still intertwined in most departments, the gap between them is widening as comp/rhet becomes its own field within the department and the teaching of composition becomes a comp/rhet rather than just a general English class. Some people I've talked to are starting to speak of a formalized split between literary studies and comp/rhet, some of them as if it is an inevitability.

    And sadly, in many (not all!) literary studies classes, the emphasis is not on writing and critical thinking, however much those words are bandied about (and believe you me they are!). I've taught upper level lit studies classes and intro comp classes, and I can tell you that the lit studies courses are for the most part structured so that there is hardly any time or even impetus to work on the formal aspects of writing and thinking competency (writing a paper with a clear point, arguing that point with good examples and reasons). This is real. Many students either don't bother to write well or know that they don't have to for the grade. That's less because of the political or cultural studies or whatever other emphasis in the lectures and classes of many professors. The problem is not the politics, it's the lack of rigor in many literary studies classes. Students know they don't have to write or reason well and they'll get a decent enough grade.

    When I teach composition, I am able to get my students to do so much more. I demand that their writing is clear, that they make a point, and that their argument holds water. But that's in composition classes, and they aren't the face of the English department. They are taught by grad students and, while the composition program in my department is really great, it's not the crown jewel, lit studies is.

    So while the Shakespeare class focused on queer studies or ecocriticism (for the record, I think these things can be interesting) is the face of the department, the students won't come away writing or possibly even reading better because of it. Many people see this as a contradiction, and maybe it is since it's slowly pulling formal composition off to the side, leaving lit studies classes without a lot of rigor.

    This is sad to me, because composition's what it's all about (you can think the most revolutionary thoughts, but you can't do anything with them if you can't write and articulate what it is you're thinking) and a book is the best device yet to practice our imaginative reasoning skills with. The two go together like ham and eggs, but now the twain very rarely meet in practice. That's the root of this problem: if people saw English classes teaching people how to write and think, they wouldn't focus so much on the kooky faddish content of the course, I'm willing to wager. They'd see the results and value English more, and you might even see that reflected in the way they numerically value it in the budgetary numbers. Or maybe I'm just dreaming...

    ReplyDelete
  56. "Yes, I was a close-minded and arrogant little jerk when I was a STEM undergraduate. But the stories I'm telling are true. The point is that I got away with my conduct and my professors were glad to give me high grades for echoing drivel back to them. They should have nailed my butt, but they didn't.

    Undergraduates are quick to realize what they can get away with doing (or not doing). A busy STEM undergrad is rapidly able to tell when s/he can get away with minimal effort in a humanities course and will usually take advantage of such an opportunity in order to focus on the more challenging effort required in his/her STEM courses."

    AND TAS (PROFS TOO PROBABLY) KNOW THIS AS WELL. I SPEND MOST OF MY TIME AS A TA PRETENDING. PRETENDING THAT I DON'T KNOW THAT MY STUDENTS REVILE ME AND THE MATERIAL. PRETENDING I DON'T KNOW THEY'RE LYING, OR DENIGRATING ME. I'M NOT LYING TO MYSELF, MIND YOU, JUST KEEPING MYSELF FROM STRANGLING THE LITTLE BASTARDS. THE UGS THINK WE'RE STUPID, BUT WE'RE JUST RESTRAINED AND PROFESSIONAL. AND THE REAL REASON FOR IT ALL? PROFESSOR COMFORT. I GRADE INFLATE, IGNORE INSULTS, PRETEND THE STUDENTS ARE BETTER THAN THEY ARE ALL BECAUSE IT'S WHAT THE PROFS WANT TO HEAR--YOU CAN SEE IT IN THEIR FACES WHEN YOU GIVE 'EM THE BAD NEWS --"NO ONE UNDERSTANDS X," "HALF MY CLASS IS FUNCTIONALLY ILLITERATE," "THEY DON'T EVEN BOTHER TO CONCEAL THEIR ENNUI AND CONTEMPT." PROFS NEED TO DELUDE THEMSELVES SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO CONFRONT THEIR EXPLOITATION OF GRAD STUDENT LABOR TO FURTHER THEIR CAREERS AND LINE THEIR OWN POCKETS. THEY ALSO REALLY DON'T WANT TO KNOW JUST HOW BAD IT IS OR THAT WHAT THEY DO FOR A LIVING REALLY DOESN'T MATTER IN ANY MEANINGFUL WAY. WE'RE IN THE BUSINESS OF PROVIDING A RATIONALE FOR PARENTS TO PAY TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO FINANCE THEIR KIDS' FOUR-YEAR DRINKING BINGES. THAT'S ABOUT IT. THE BRIGHT ONES WOULD SHINE AS AUTODIDACTS--THEY DON'T NEED US--AND THE REST ARE TEFLON--NOTHING STICKS.

    IT'S A WIN FOR STUDENTS AND PROFS, BUT NOT FOR TA/GRAD STUDENTS. THANKS, DICKS.

    OH, AND BY THE WAY, CAN WE PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THIS SITE IS FOR SOCIAL SCIENCE FOLKS TOO? EVEN THE QUANT GUYS I KNOW CAN'T FIND T-T JOBS, AND THE QUALITATIVE PEOPLE LIKE ME ARE TOTALLY SCREWED.

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  57. "IT'S A WIN FOR STUDENTS AND PROFS, BUT NOT FOR TA/GRAD STUDENTS. THANKS, DICKS."

    In the short term, it *seems* like the students and the professors are profiting from this. But in the long term, the students are getting shafted because they aren't rigorously learning to read and write in meaningful ways, while the professors are setting themselves up for a major education bubble...well, maybe the ones who can retire before or shortly after the bubble bursts are profiting, but everyone else is going to get hurt really bad.

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  58. To JML @ 9:14 AM:

    Thanks very much for your explanation of what is happening in English departments these days. A STEM person looking into the English department from the outside is definitely not aware of this division (or growing rift, as you put it) between the esoteric literature courses and the composition/rhetoric courses.

    In my personal experience, I tested out of the lower-level courses and was dropped directly into the upper level courses. At that young age in life, I was alternately galled or bored by the bizarre and irrelevant topics being discussed in these literature courses, and I wondered why we weren't learning more about practical writing skills in these classes.

    Your explanation has helped me to understand a lot better what goes on in the bowels of an English department. It certainly sounds like it isn't much fun to be an English graduate student under the current system.

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  59. Outsider here.

    FWIW (not much these days given the horrible surplus of new J.D.s) a rigorous UG philosophy background is excellent preparation for law school. Ideally, the student will have had to research and write several course papers and learned to think critically in situations where there is no single "right" answer but there are definitely "wrong" answers.

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  60. Are people too busy enjoying turkey to complain about graduate school?

    FWIW, I think that graduate school can be a lot of fun if you come into it with the right attitude that you may become an academic failure, and that's all right with you. Plenty of smart people can't necessarily hack it.

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  61. "Plenty of smart people can't necessarily hack it."

    Totally agree, but mostly because of structural constraints. You can't get jobs that don't exist (or incorporate your adviser's revisions if he won't send them).

    " I think that graduate school can be a lot of fun if you come into it with the right attitude that you may become an academic failure, and that's all right with you."

    I think this is precisely the wrong attitude. We should be demanding more, not less, from the system. The above quote, if taken to its logical conclusions, implies that only wealthy dilettantes should attend grad school. They are the only people for whom success is optional. But for the rest of us, it's not outrageous to expect that job training (which is what a PhD program should provide) should make one employable. Grad schools need to curb their admissions and provide professionalization training.

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  62. 9:27: wealthy dilettantes are probably the only people who should be attending grad school in light of the current system. Demanding more won't open many doors because the demands will fall on deaf ears. The best option is to walk away.

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  63. @10:02. Did you quit? How did it go? I'm actually thinking of quitting...today! No joke.

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  64. I quit last week. It feels like a massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I just found this blog and, wow. I know I have made the right decision, but it is still scary... what to do with my life??

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  65. "I quit last week. It feels like a massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I just found this blog and, wow. I know I have made the right decision, but it is still scary... what to do with my life??"

    Wow--you are brave and smart. Congrats. I want to do likewise. Chickened out yesterday. Maybe today. Mostly I haven't done it yet because I still haven't finished my stupid masters thesis. If I didn't have that hanging over my head, I probably would have just gone and done it already. The other reason is that I actually do have an idea for something to do for the diss. In my head, it's relevant, readable (regular people can understand it), accessible (regular people can find it), doesn't kowtow to arcane theory. Just the kind of thing that our advisers would hate. I think they call it "journalism" and it's a more productive, relevant thing than I've ever done. AND I don't need to pay $>13,000/year to write it. Grad school is a scam. Maybe I'll quit today...

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  66. @10:56: Congratulations on quitting! You have real courage. It must be scary, but just know that it's also scary to stay in grad school. You have to face that 'what now?' question eventually, but you stared it down now. You have no idea how many of us wish we had done what you just did and got out of this circus. I heard some good advice recently: it's OK to do something else while you look for what you want to do. In other words, keep yourself busy.

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  67. I remember getting the "what now?" feeling from time to time, even as I pursued my graduate degree. It usually happened on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, right after spending a few hours doing a normal, everyday activity totally unrelated to my weekday work in the laboratory. That is, I was momentarily experiencing what people outside of academia call "real life".

    I would get this sudden, terrorizing glimpse of the wider world outside of academia. A fear and a thrill would suddenly grip me...I would realize that I was young and unattached (with an automobile and a credit card at my disposal). Until the bell tolled again on Monday morning, I was free. I could go anywhere and do anything as long as I returned on Monday.

    Or, I could drive away from graduate school and just never come back. I could go get a job in the real world.

    Or, I could just go grocery shopping and head back to my apartment and get ready from the coming week of labor in the lab.

    I always took the last choice. The safe choice. I got my degree. But some days I wonder what might have happened if I had taken a different road.

    These days, I rarely get that raw, terrorizing thrill. Instead of the question "What Now?", the question is "What's Next?" from a very long list of things that need to be done.

    This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to be out of academia and in the real world, but I still have a touch of a glimmer of a regret about what might have been if I had made the jump to the real world at an earlier age.

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  68. "This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to be out of academia and in the real world, but I still have a touch of a glimmer of a regret about what might have been if I had made the jump to the real world at an earlier age."

    When I completed my Master's, I wondered if I should "cut my losses" and pursue work elsewhere. By then, I was already somewhat certain I didn't want to be a professor, and I would have avoided getting more debt. Instead, I forged ahead, and finished my Doctorate.

    In some ways, I think I made the right decision: I got to learn more mathematics, and I had experiences I otherwise would not have had. In other ways, I wonder if I would have been better off if I had just moved on.

    I shouldn't beat myself over the head with regret for decisions I made and cannot change now. In any case, if anyone else is considering dropping out of graduate school, my advice would certainly be "If you decide to do so, don't feel like you couldn't 'hack it'! There's so much more to life than graduate school!". And regardless of what choice to make, keep in mind that we're all forging ahead with our lives, somewhat blindly, and the best we can do is evaluate where we are at a given point, honestly seek out as many options as possible, and then make our decisions from there...accepting the imperfections that will inevitably hit us anyway.

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  69. It basically comes down to ego. That's the central problem here. In the real world, people tend to think better of themselves if they are good at their jobs, but it's rare to see a job take the place of self-identity as you see almost regularly in academia. (If anything, it's somewhat odd in academia if self-worth does not equal standing in academic circles.)

    How many people say normal things like "I love my job, but it doesn't define me" in academia? I've yet to meet a single grad student or academic who said something normal like that -- I work hard to be a great historian, but when I come home, I'm just a dad.

    This is the central issue. If academics or would-be academics stopped being so insecure about being the smartest nerds in the playground, and always being "better" than others in terms of intellect, then they would be a lot happier, well-adjusted, and ultimately profitable. The life of the mind is too absorbing, and the reason has to do, ultimately, with insecurity of the worst form.

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  70. I quit my Masters. It feels mostly exhilarating, but also a little terrifying.

    It was the right choice for me, and I'm lucky in that I never invested too much into it: less than a year, and almost no debt.

    But I now have to face up to the real world, without the idea/fantasy of Being a Professor.

    That's the difficult part. I don't think it's a really bad thing to have early, relatively low cost failures. But grad school took a lot out of me emotionally, and my mental health suffered.

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  71. @ 2:54
    I too got out of grad school, but I ended up finishing a MA (it was only a year). And I too realized that I had built up a ludicrous fantasy of the 'academic world' in my head. When I saw that it was all about politics I was deeply disappointed, and am still suffering emotionally to this day. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel, trust me.
    What I had to deal with the most was putting aside the fantasy of living the 'life of the mind', (i.e. sitting in a study surrounded by leather-bound volumes and drinking tea...I know it sounds juvenile but this is what I had worked for my whole academic life....)
    It will get better! I promise

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  72. Hey guys, I'm the one who posted about leaving my program a few weeks ago (10:56). It was actually a clinical psychology PhD program. What prompted me to leave was thinking about my future. Where will I be in 5 years? Ten? That's what started me feeling panicky and realizing that my field is going nowhere and I will be lucky to find a decent position as an adjunct. Reimbursement rates for clinical psychologists are in a free fall. Instead, I am leaving this field and pursuing advanced practice nursing instead. This might shock some people, but a psychiatric nurse practitioner actually makes quite a bit of money. The field is similar enough that I will be able to do the work that I love, but be better compensated and be in much higher demand. Some of my friends and colleagues think it is crazy for me to become a "lowly" nurse. I think they need to open their eyes and look around. Go to any hospital. You will see lowly nurses making very competitive wages. You will see nurse practitioners and physician assistants doing fascinating work, making a comfortable living, and becoming increasingly in high demand. I feel like it will be a dream come true compared to my prospects with a PhD in psychology. I finally feel optimistic about my future. Fortunately for me I was able to find a growing field similar to my original one. Good luck to all of you considering dropping out. I hope you make a decision that brings you happiness and peace.

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  73. @12:10 Good luck with your nursing career! I don't think that you'll ever regret making the switch. There will be hard days and sore feet ahead, but you will be well paid for honest work that helps people. I hope that leaving your PhD program will come as a relief and a liberation. You're free!

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  74. Thanks 12:10, and congrats to you! Unfortunately my back up plan was actually psychology...what do you think about the prospects of masters level clinicians (MFT/LPC)?

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  75. Thanks guys. Yeah, I think some people think that psych or mental health is more appealing because you can do clinical work and not just academic work. Unfortunately, the truth is that the market is beyond saturated with therapists. What's the saying? You can't swing a cat without hitting a therapist? In terms of the mental health field, the best way to be able to make money as a provider is to be able to prescribe. Either as an MD/DO, PA, or NP. You can also do therapy as a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, but the nice part is you can do med management as well, thus allowing you to have a much higher earning potential and be in much, much, greater demand. Good luck!

    Hard days and sore feet are certainly ahead. But I am free! Also, once I'm working as a provider (psych NP) instead of a student RN, I'm sure my feet won't be sore anymore. ;-)

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  76. I have finished my PhD. And it was the most destructive period of my life. Had I known how it is, I would run away as early as possible. Now I am looking for a job and my title is helpful, but believe me 7 years of experience in any job would make me much more valuable on this market.
    Ann

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  77. its doesnt make sense to get a phd in the humanities to kill yourself for 8 years in school and then have nothing to show for it. much better to enter the workforce after you graduate from undergrad.

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    Replies
    1. ...and kill yourself for 8 years with nothing to show for it.

      Delete
  78. Humanities: Free Free Free

    Social sciences: Free Free Free at Public Library/Public internet

    CNN

    PBS

    S-SPAN

    All these material is Free Free Free.

    All you need is Free Free public library pass to the local public library...

    Free Free Free to All Free citizens....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You mean, the local metropolitan public library where you can find a dozen copies of "Inferno" but nothing by Dante? The same 'library' that is hocking "old, less circulated" books to help make the administrative budget? The same 'library' that is buying computers for porn surfing while the math section gets gutted?

      The only 'free' here is freedom from responsibility with public resources.

      Delete
    2. "All these material is Free Free Free."

      NO, they most certainly are NOT.

      CNN is paid for by cable subscription.
      PBS is paid for with tax dollars AND donations.
      The public library is paid for with tax dollars and donations.
      "Public" internet is "free" for the cost of access, cost of equipment, and maintained and made available with tax dollars.

      Delete
  79. INTERNET/WEB/GOOGLE: education. public education.

    USA, world must spend $100-300 billion worldwide on k-12, higher education. Billion. Billions Billions of Dollars worldwide each each.

    $100 BILLION can education all seven, 7-billion people on earth.

    HARVARD/MIT/STANFORD/YALE/UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA/UNIVERISTY OF MICHIGAN: Give it All Away.

    BILL GATES/WARREN BUFFETT: GIVING PLEDGE

    MIT/HARVARD/STANFORD: GIVING AWAY FREE FREE FREE

    TIM BERNERS LEE/2012 Olympic Honored: Inventor of the WorldWide Web: Gave it Away Free Free Free to world.

    Yes. Yes. Yes: give it away Free Free Free.

    World will be better place for All 7-billion people.

    SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE CAN ALL BENEFIT WITH WORLD-CLASS EDUCAITON.

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  80. Free free free and still free free free

    public library

    public internet

    edx

    coursera

    google

    facebook.

    web

    web

    web.

    Free free free and still Free free free.

    Zero money. what better than Free free free. All Free free free and still Free Free Free and still free free free

    ReplyDelete
  81. Free free free

    Free free free at Free public library with Free library pass.

    english

    philosophy

    literature

    shakespeare

    arts

    social sciences

    humanities

    modern art

    Nothing wrong with these subjects.

    You can study all day/night plato, aristotle. hume, camus, einstein, newton, law, literature. History.

    FREE FREE FREE AND STILL FREE FREE FREE

    All these material is Free Free Free at Public library/Public internet/web.

    Free Free Free and still Free Free Free with Free library pass.

    All Free free free. Folks.

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  82. humanities/social sciences gone gone gone by 2020. All free free free on internet.

    Tim Lee gave WorldwideWeb (Web) away for Free Free Free.

    Tim Lee was invited to 2012 London olympics because he gave away his Web for free free free and did NOT make a single penny off the Web.

    Coursera

    Edx

    Udacity.

    MIT 2000 Free courses.

    All the humanities/social sciences/ science lectures/books is now Free free free.

    One digital lecture can reach Millions, billions. worldwide. anytime anywhere.

    One digital course can reach Millions/Billions worldwide anytime anywhere for 7 billion people in earth by 2020

    2020: all humanities/social sciences/science lectures will be free free free free free for all on

    Web free free free

    Web free free free

    Web. free free free

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  83. common sense. here

    USA must spend 100-200 Billion on education.

    USA has 3500 colleges.

    Tape best lectures on math/science/engineering/humanities.

    Post all lectures online for free free free.

    University of california

    University of Texas

    University of michigan.

    USA has 300 Million people. there are 3 billion people on internet.

    Ten times the amount of people on internet.

    3 billion people can see internet university.

    Open university

    Internet university

    Web University

    Yes. internet, give to internet university....

    Three billion can benefit from Free free free internet univeristy....

    ReplyDelete
  84. ... and all it will take is a few EMPs or solar flares, and that entire infrastructure will be wiped out.

    ReplyDelete
  85. See:

    "Conservatives, Please Stop Trashing the Liberal Arts"
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/christopher-scalia-conservatives-please-stop-trashing-the-liberal-arts-1427494073

    -and-

    "Who Trashes Liberal Arts"
    http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2015/03/31/who-trashes-liberal-arts-n1978500

    ReplyDelete