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Winter for Higher-Ed
Blue Civil War Hits Academia
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  • wigwag


  • iconoclast

    “…most university faculty are unbelievable snobs when it comes to prestigious degrees…”

    Yet Elizabeth Warren not only graduated from a low tier law school but produced research described as constituting scientific misconduct. Somehow she became a Harvard Law professor despite those obvious handicaps. I wonder how….

    • rheddles

      Injun blood.

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        Pseudo Injun blood

    • Angel Martin

      Fauxcahontas is the only one in that whole department from a US public university

    • JLawson

      It’s odd how the left keeps holding up as ‘Best and Brightest’ people you wouldn’t trust with managing a McDonald’s.

  • qet

    HA! Well done. Would that my brother have had the benefit of these remarks before his own PhD follies.

    In other news–the adjuncts at Boston University just voted last week to unionize. Blue doubling down on itself, in other words.

  • Ellen

    Thank you again, for that timely reminder that all is not well in the faculty lounge. One could easily spend a blogging career writing satire about the quality and morality of the tenured faculty at our top universities.

    “most university faculty are unbelievable snobs when it comes to prestigious degrees.” This is the truest truism ever written. And yet these very same snobs shed crocodile tears for the poor and downtrodden. Just don’t try to get a free cup of coffee in their faculty lounge.

    Ruth Wisse once very cleverly commented that the institution that the Harvard Faculty most clearly approximates, in terms of diversity of opinion, is the North Korean Parliament in Pyong Yang. I wish you would address yourself to that issue, Mr. Mead, not just the insufferable and unjustified snobbism of these PC, Obama-worshipping graduates of rolling around in the mud at Woodstock, who have ruined our intellectual life.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Indeed, your intellectual life sounds as though it’s been ruined, but unless you devoted yourself to the literal insights from the literal mud people of Woodstock, they didn’t ruin your intellect.

      • ThomasD

        Find metaphor challenging, do you?

  • Fat_Man

    More of the same.

    “Closed Networks” by Colleen Flaherty on February 13, 2015

    “By now, the secret is out in some disciplines: if you want to land a tenure-line faculty job, you’d better attend a highly ranked graduate program — not necessarily because they’re better but because the market favors prestige. But a new study suggests that “social inequality” might be worse than previously thought, across a range of different disciplines.”

    “[My] clients and readers from the most elite institutions have the easiest time getting jobs,” she said — with the disclaimer that not all Ph.D.s from elite institutions get increasingly rare tenure-line jobs, and that many are working as adjuncts or contemplating leaving academe. “But of the clients with whom I’ve worked who do sail quickly and relatively painlessly into tenure-track jobs, the majority are from elite programs.”

    “For that reason, she said, she started sending out a default message to anyone writing her for advice about whether or not to get a Ph.D., which reads, in part: “Go only to an elite or high-ranking program, and take on absolutely no debt to do the entire program start to finish. If all those are possible and you are under 40, then it’s not a bad choice.”

    • Fat_Man

      My son’s girlfriend is applying to grad schools to get a Ph.D. in history. She is very bright, and, she has a good job in software where she makes way above average money.

      When my son told me about her ambition, I called a long time friend of mine, who is one of the most well known scholars in the subfield she wants to study. His advice was even stronger than yours and Ms. Flaherty’s. He said: “Don’t do it.”

      I duly passed along the advice, and I offered to fly her and my son out to meet my friend. Both the advice and the offer were rejected.

      Fortunately, she has already been accepted by a “prestige” school and has been offered a scholarship and a stipend. And, even more fortunately, my son would be able to support a stay at home mother to my grandchildren, if, that is, they get married and have children.

      • ThomasD

        There is nothing wrong with obtaining luxury goods if they are truly within your means, and this one could prove to be quite aspirational. Having a mother who has a Ph.D. from a prestigious school, whether she remains in academia or not, can open many doors that might otherwise stay firmly closed.

        Among a certain set the Ph.D. obtained out of want, rather than need, carries significant cachet.

  • Dan Greene

    Not a bad article, but bringing in the ill-defined “blue model” accusation adds nothing to it. The bottom line is that the US developed a fixation with “education, ” after WW II which gradually produced too much of what was once a good thing. But another piece of this is that higher-paying non-college-degree jobs have been exported and that has sent a new stream of students–many not really cut out for academic degrees–into college. Robotics will only add to this problem. On the whole, the development of the higher ed oversupply and the free-trade export of jobs have both been bipartisan “achievements.”

    I agree with the article’s warning to potential PhD and other degree candidates.

  • Anthony

    There’s plenty to be said for legitimate scholarship (graduate or post graduate). But conflating/confusing academic scholarship with job training/seeking or status/class mobility while tying such scholarship’s practical and class shortcomings to Blue Model is misdirecting. If there is a model to indict, then indict the corporate/capitalist model undergoing transition since the 1970s (creative destruction in all sectors). The Ph.D. ought not be pursued by routine job holders which has been a consequence after college departmental pressures beginning circa 1920s. That is, in the 1920s the Carnegie Foundation composed an accepted list of colleges eligible for “Carnegie Pensions” with the caveat that qualifying colleges must have Ph.D. department heads – thus it began. This, believe it or not, is the procrustean route that led to Ph.D. career paths (tenured jobs/social status guilds). Now, the academic corporate model is unsustainable but it’s not Blue’s fault.

    • ThomasD

      So, by your reasoning the undeniably deep Blue-ness of academia is either carefully constructed camouflage intended to mask their inherent corporatism, or it is a form of false consciousness.

      • Anthony

        It’s neither; just consequence of systemic development sans labeling.

        • ThomasD

          So, it is what it is, just don’t call it what it is…

          • Anthony

            Whatever that means, yea!

      • stefanstackhouse

        I have generally found that while college faculties will be the deepest and most uniform of blue when it comes to questions of public policy, when it comes to how their own institutions are run you will not find a more hidebound bunch of conservatives anywhere.

  • FriendlyGoat

    There is probably some truth to the economic argument against getting a second-tier Ph.D., but evidently it’s still thought okay to become a super-snob with a first-tier Ph.D. taught and supervised by the most snobby of the snobby. What that must be saying is that most of society outside academia has lost respect for any Ph.D. and those remaining new elite graduates are swimming in an ever-shrinking puddle of places which will pay them to teach students.

    The tone of blaming the blue model for this outcome, however, is ridiculous. The red model of hiring people for the least possible amount, affording them no job security whatsoever, and thwarting their ability to unionize is the source of the decline.

    • Loader2000

      I’m all for unions that inflate salaries over minimum wage for industries with no international competition and where there is an alternative if/when the union becomes corrupt and greedy. Bag checkers at grocery stores are a perfect example. I’m perfectly fine with them making $15 or $18 an hour since that industry cannot be shipped overseas and if the grocery stores become too expensive (as a result of stupid decisions by union leaders), I can always have my groceries delivered or go to a farmers market or shop at fresh and easy where I check myself out. I am dead set against artificially raising wages over market prices in industries with international competition and where jobs can just be shipped overseas. Here is a cold hard truth, if you can’t compete with China and/or India, you WILL go out of business and simply raising tariffs is a solution that has proven to not work. It doesn’t prevent jobs going over seas and considering that most of what is made here is constructed with simpler parts made in China (and such places) imposing those kinds of tariffs would increase the cost to manufacture almost everything in the United States, (not to mention sparking a trade war) and making US products globally less competitive and millions of jobs would be lost in the long run. The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet, especially not a simple political one. Simply increasing minimum wage is and simple and idealist solution that really isn’t grounded in the economic and extremely complex realities of a global economy. The only reason things were so good post WWII is that the economies of the rest of the developed world had been destroyed (except for the US) and that allowed the US to grab a fairly disproportionate size of the pie and not have to worry about competition or efficiency or even product quality. The only way to keep the piece of pie from shrinking is aggressive innovation which utilizes the cultural of the United States and the legacy of technology and innovation. How to achieve that is a whole other topic.

  • K. E.

    Wish I could send this article to a friend of mine who recently (at 45!) became a full professor at a very small, no-name private college in the midwest. This friend took on enormous debt and got his Ph.D. in history from a middle of the road state school. When he finished the program, he had a hard time finding a position – partially because he stubbornly would NOT look outside the midwest. Just had no interest in going where the work was. I asked what other work he could find with a Ph.D. in history…he practically snapped my head off at the suggestion! Apparently, anything but being a professor was beneath his IQ or something. A few years’ later he got his position. He spent about 10 years as an associate professor at this school before he became a full professor just this year. The only way he could dig himself out of debt was a lucky break where he and his spouse ended up with $150K (I’ll spare you the details, but it was not earned $$). Otherwise, he would’ve likely been in debt into his retirement.

    • PostLiberal

      I asked what other work he could find with a Ph.D. in history…he
      practically snapped my head off at the suggestion! Apparently, anything
      but being a professor was beneath his IQ or something.

      Over 40 years ago I worked with a woman whose husband was pursuing a Ph.D. in English. The writing on the wall was there even 40 years ago: he did a lot of research in alternate jobs for those holding doctorates in English. IIRC, his department even presented his findings to other doctoral candidates in the event they didn’t get their job in academia. Over 40 years ago it was apparent that the bloom was off the rose for those pursuing Ph.Ds. It has gotten only worse since then. Ironically, for all his research into alternate jobs for Ph.Ds. in English, he ended up getting a tenure track position, and died a Professor of English.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Good advice to young people: The truth is that unless one is clearly in the stratospheric ranks of elite intelligence (99th++ percentile), it is really unwise to invest one’s time and money in a PhD program. Consider the basic economics and demographics of this game (obvious, but seldom mentioned or even considered): the typical full-time tenured professor might serve in his/her career for maybe 25 years or so, and then retire, during which time he/she needs to create ONE PhD replacement. ALL of the remaining production of PhDs throughout their entire academic career are surplus, going either into newer (and probably 2nd/3rd tier programs, or overseas), or into adjunct hell, or into non-academic, non-tenured settings. One really does wonder if we need as many doctoral programs as we have, or as many people entering into them.

    I would advise those masses of young people that are intelligent enough to handle college-level work, but who are not among the elite few in the 99th+ percentile, to seek out a bachelor’s degree program that will lead directly on to some sort of professional certification – professional engineer, registered nurse, CPA, etc. Any of these pathways have the potential to lead to a reasonably secure and comfortable career, and that is about the best that the merely modestly above-average can reasonably hope to achieve.

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