Tag: faculty

Book review: The Decline of the American Mandarins? (part 2)

Vidar Grøtta

This is part two of the review by Vidar Grøtta who is a PhD candidate at the Department of Educational Research/KULTRANS at the University of OsloHe holds a magister degree in comparative literature from the University of Oslo. For the past four years he has been working for the Ministry of Education and Research in Norway. You can find part one here.

The review is focused on four books:

  • Frank Donoghue: The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (NY: Fordham U P, 2008)
  • Stanley Fish: Save the World on Your Own Time (NY: Oxford U P, 2008)
  • Martha Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton U P, 2010)
  • Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (NY: Norton, 2010)

Part 2

A much-quoted piece of advise to young artists, sometimes attributed to the British playwright John Osborne, is this: “Never explain, never apologize.” Stanley Fish, once termed America’s most famous professor (and the model for the character Morris Zapp, the prototype postmodernist professor, in David Lodge’s entertaining campus novels), gives what is in effect the same advise to his fellow academics. He begins his book Save the World on Your Own Time with a review of the many strategies of legitimation which have been proposed for higher education, among them: “It’s contributing to economic growth” (whether in the crassly direct version, or in the more indirect “tickling down” version); “It’s fostering citizenship, so necessary for our democracy” (Nussbaum’s position); “It’s the institutional home of critique and counter-culture, without which capitalist society would run amok” (the Leftist view) – and a few other, more esoteric ones.

Not surprisingly, Fish abandons them all, and instead offers a view of higher education which “takes the air out of some inflated balloons. It denies to teaching the moral and philosophical pretensions that lead practitioners to envision themselves as agents of change and or as the designers of a ‘transformative experience,’ a phrase”, Fish adds, “I intensely dislike.” To replace moralizing he admonishes his colleges, as some of his chapter titles say, to “Do Your Job,” “Don’t Try to Do Someone Else’s Job,” and “Don’t Let Anyone Else Do Your Job.” (more…)




Book review: The Decline of the American Mandarins? (part 1)

Vidar Grøtta

This review is written by Vidar Grøtta who is a PhD candidate at the Department of Educational Research/KULTRANS at the University of Oslo. He holds a magister degree in comparative literature from the University of Oslo. For the past four years he has been working for the Ministry of Education and Research in Norway. The review will critically examine the role and position of humanities in higher education in the new context and focus on these four books:

  • Frank Donoghue: The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (NY: Fordham U P, 2008)
  • Stanley Fish: Save the World on Your Own Time (NY: Oxford U P, 2008)
  • Martha Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton U P, 2010)
  • Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (NY: Norton, 2010)

The review will be published during four consecutive weeks on Wednesdays.

In the perennial war between the humanities and the marketplace, which dates back at least as far as to the medieval skirmishes between “town” and “gown”, the American humanities professors seem now to be on the defensive. No reader of the NYRB and other favored haunts of the American mandarins can be unaware of the grievances the humanities are facing today: not enough funding, too many classes to teach, not enough time for research, not enough respect in the wider society, accusations from all sides of political correctness, unwelcome reform initiatives, an uncontrolled rise of a contingent, non-tenured class of teachers, and uneasy relations with the neighboring faculties on campus. And this list is by no means exhaustive.

Judging from the debates of the past decades, there seems to be two fundamentally different ways of addressing this current state of the humanities. Either you argue that the humanities and the institutions which teach and research them are basically sound (to this proposition is usually added an unhelpful “when properly conducted”); and thus the real problem is the regrettable lack of understanding and respect from the outside world. Or else you say that the current state of the humanities is at least in part the consequence of processes internal to it, and that, therefore, more attempts at providing a new form of “defense” won’t do the trick, at least not by itself. Of the four books singled out for review here, Martha Nussbaum and Stanley Fish mainly adhere to the former approach, whereas Frank Donogue and Louis Menand lean towards the latter. (more…)




Women in Academe – new report from MIT

A new report indicates that in the case of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), progress has in fact been made with respect to increasing the amount of women in academe. Inside Higher Education makes a review of the report and the earlier report from 1999 that received world wide attention, since it shed light on some of the obstacles women meet in academe.

However, according to the new report, the amount of female staff has almost doubled in science (from 30 to 52) and engineering (from 32 to 60), in addition there are more women in senior administrative positions. In fact, since 2004 the President of MIT is neuroscientist Susan Hockfield who has earlier worked at Yale Universityas the William Edward Gilbert Professor of Neurobiology and provost.

While the earlier reports  emphasized that the women in MIT felt professionally marginalized, the new report indicates progress. The MIT site cites Lorna Gibson, who is a professor of Materials Science and Engineering and chair of the School of Engineering study, who said that: “I chaired the study 10 years ago for engineering, and if you had asked me then how much better I thought it could get for women faculty, I never would have thought that we would get this far in 10 years“. (more…)




New report from CSHE on peer review

UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) recently published a report based on the Future of Scholarly Communication Project. The report was prepared by Diane Harley and Sophia Krzys Acord, and is titled “Peer Review in Academic Promotion and Publishing: Its Meaning, Locus, and Future”. The overall project focus has been on how “academic values—including those related to peer review, publishing, sharing, and collaboration—influence scholarly communication practices and engagement with new technological affordances, open access publishing, and the public good“.

Earlier phases of the project had highlighted the need for a more nuanced way of rewards in academe, that would amongst else not be so focused on quantitative publishing metrics. The report also highlights some of the eminent issues for peer reviewing at this point of time, such as: assessing interdisciplinary scholarship, hybrid disciplines, the development of new online forms of edition making and collaborative curation for community resource use, heavily computational subdisciplines, large-scale collaborations around grand challenge questions, an increase in multiple authorship, a growing flood of low-quality publications, and the call by governments, funding bodies, universities, and individuals for the open access publication of taxpayer-subsidized research, including original data sets.

This indicates new types of challenges and opportunities – leading to a new type of environment for existing peer review practices. Provided that peer review does form the basis for most judgments in academe, both with respect to publishing but also with respect to evaluations – it is indeed extremely important to shed more light into the practices.

The report covers five aspects:

  1. an overview of the state of peer review in the Academy at large
  2. a set of recommendations for moving forward
  3. a proposed research agenda to examine in depth the effects of academic status-seeking on the entire academic enterprise
  4. proceedings from the workshop on the four topics noted above
  5. four substantial and broadly conceived background papers on the workshop topics, with associated literature reviews

You can download the whole report here.




A glass ceiling or an invisible web?

Image: stock:xchng

The fact that women still are underrepresented in the academia in tenured positions, is probably not a surprise to anyone. There are, of course, significant differences between disciplines, and there is variety between various countries and contexts, where fields related to natural sciences are often used as an example where the gap has been especially persistent.

Historically there was an assumption that provided that one gets more women into post-graduate education, the gap would disappear by itself over time as these women gradually enter the tenured positions. However, thirty and forty years later, the gap is still there. How can this be explained? The gap has been called many things – the glass ceiling and the boys-club being one example. In 1994, Louise Morley called it the “iron cage”, taking a starting point in the situation in the UK, and indicates that even in 1988-1989, only 3% of professors in the UK were women.

Arguably, the gap has remained especially strong in natural sciences and technology related fields. A recent Nature article reviews a study by Ceci and Williams from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (US), and argues that the time has come to not call it a glass ceiling or a old-boys club: “the metaphor that best describes the challenge facing women in science today is the invisible web.” Indeed, the study also indicates that there has been a huge increase in the amount of PhDs awarded to women: for example, in life sciences the number rose from 13% in 1970 to 52% today. On the other hand – they also indicate that only 8.8–15.8% of the tenure track holders in math-intensive fields are women. So what happens underway? (more…)