A Different Kind of August

Office

On Saturday I cleaned the office.  It looks much better now than in this photo

I returned to the office today.  The summer seemed longer than usual.  This is probably because Messiah College starts classes a week later this year.  (The first day of class is next Tuesday).  It also seems longer because I am no longer chair of the Messiah College History Department.  Some of you may recall that I wrote a bit about this back in February.

For the last eight years, August was filled with anxiety and stress about the start of the new year.  Was I fair in the distribution of new advisees to the faculty?  Will everything go well with the opening ice-cream social and the department picnic?  What kind of new administrative paperwork will emerge after our first big department meeting?  And the list goes on.

When I posted about leaving the department chair back in February I wrote:

I am not sure what role I will play going forward at Messiah College.  At small colleges like Messiah, administration is really the only way to advance one’s career within the institution.  So I will return to life as an ordinary faculty member.  I will be in the classroom a bit more and will have more time for thinking about my teaching and writing.   We will see how it goes.

This year I plan to teach and serve the department and Messiah College the best I can.  I  will also be on the road a lot.  I hope to continue to say something to the larger culture and Christian community about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  I also hope to enjoy my daughter Caroline’s senior year before Joy and I head-off into the empty-nester stage of life.  In the Fall, I will be watching a lot of Calvin College volleyball.  And, at 52-years-old, I want to take stock of what the last pre-retirement chapter of my life might look like.

But right now, I need to finish a syllabus for “Colonial America” and my U.S. Survey to 1865 course.

Consider Placing This Language in Your Syllabus

d4465-classroom2bphoto

Source

Commitment to Viewpoint Diversity, Mutual Understanding, and Constructive Disagreement

In order to create a classroom environment that supports respectful, critical inquiry through the free exchange of ideas, the following principles will guide our work:

  • Treat every member of the class with respect, even if you disagree with their opinion;
  • Bring light, not heat;
  • Reasonable minds can differ on any number of perspectives, opinions, and conclusions;
  • Because constructive disagreement sharpens thinking, deepens understanding, and reveals novel insights, it is not just encouraged, it is expected;
  • All viewpoints are welcome;
  • No ideas are immune from scrutiny and debate;
  • You will not be graded on your opinions.

What do you think?

“Critical Thinking” and the University

College classroom 3

Over at his blog Blue Book Diaries, Jonathan Wilson reminds us that the teaching of “critical thinking” skills is not the primary purpose of a college education. (Neither is job training). Here is a taste of his piece “The Most Understood Purpose of Higher Ed.”

Let’s be realistic. Most of the time, in most institutions, both the notion that the academy is a free-for-all of critical thinking and the notion that it’s a re-education camp for the politically incorrect are myths. This is not to deny that ideological abuses of power do happen, nor that many students have rational awakenings in college, but neither is a realistic description of most people’s experiences in practice. And I don’t think they’re good descriptions of the academy’s behavior in theory either.

So what kind of thinking does the academy promote when it’s doing its job especially well? (For simplicity, let’s stick close to undergraduate applications.)

The key to provisional collective best thinking practices is that knowledge means something special to scholars, including successful college students. For scholarly purposes—and I believe this is true across disciplines—professional knowledge consists not simply of true beliefs, but of true beliefs reached in a valid way. And validity is judged not by the individual, but by a community of scholars in an ongoing conversation.

Here’s where things get truly scary: For rigorous scholarly purposes, knowledge includes in its implicit definition the possibility that it might ultimately be proven false. That’s the “ongoing conversation” part. The only thing that scholars, as such, know for sure (however certain they may feel) is that their knowledge hasn’t been discredited by valid scholarship yet.

Wilson argues that colleges and universities do not teach “that certain ideas are ‘true’ in an academic sense–as far as we know, according to the best available evidence so far–because we have worked them out in a collective process of examination.”  He adds,  “We teach truths that are provisional but have been reached through the collective best thinking.”

Amen.  This is a great argument for the communal nature of higher education.  Wilson concludes: “…the mark of truly well-educated (as opposed to well-trained or well-spoken) people is their grasp of the way knowledge is collectively created….”

Two quick responses from where I sit, as a history professor at a private liberal arts college:

First, this is yet another argument for why the liberal arts classroom must not be a place of indoctrination.  Our job is not to tell students what to believe, but to teach them how knowledge is created so that they can make their own decisions about what to believe.  This is something that those on the Left and the Right must understand, but in the context of academia it is something that is more pertinent to the Left.  The classroom is not a place for preaching.

Second, Wilson seems to be making an indirect argument for the disciplines.  Each liberal arts discipline offers a different way of examining the world and the human experience.  Each discipline provides a different set of skills and thinking habits for arriving at knowledge.  This is what makes me nervous about introducing “interdisciplinary” learning to college students so early in their college and university experience.  How does one learn to think in an “interdisciplinary” fashion without first learning the thinking skills and practices associated with the individual disciplines?

Gutting Academic Books

99bbc-academic2bbooksDouglas Hunter has published a really interesting piece at Slate about the practice, common among graduate students in history, of understanding the argument of a book without really reading it.  This process is often described as “gutting.”   Hunter explores the implications of this practice.  Here is a taste of “Book Breaking and Book Mending“:

I wonder how many books on reading lists are ever read in depth, for pleasure, by people who have to study them. I had several hundred books on my course lists. My dissertation’s bibliography ran to 37 manuscript pages. I can only name a handful of titles that I ever read enjoyably, cover to cover. There was no time to do so, and for seven years, first as a doctoral candidate and then as a postdoctoral fellow, I read almost nothing outside my studies for pleasure. The process very nearly killed my love of reading.

The consequences of academic books being fundamentally written not to be read in full, even by an academic audience, are troubling not only for academia but for society as a whole. Society suffers when the ideas of academics are trapped inside the feedback loop of academia; academia suffers because society considers its output irrelevant. In my own work, I have probed the history of theories on human migration and race. I have shown how archaeology, scientific racism, and American manifest destiny have had a horrendous impact on indigenous people, and how corrosive, racist ideas persist in pseudohistory. I think these are important subjects, and I hope that my academic colleagues pay attention to my work, but I am also persuaded that society would be a better place if more people understood, for example, why pseudohistorical notions that ancient white people colonized America before indigenous people are popular with white supremacists. This is true of other scholars as well; we’ve seen the damage done, for example, when researchers in climate science, women’s history, and African American studies can’t get their findings into the wider world. Many scholars have been trying, in every way possible, but academic books are still striving for general accessibility.

Read the entire piece here.

Historian Nathan Hatch is the Highest Paid College President in the U.S.

f53b9-hatchWhat can you do with a history major?  Earn $4 million a year as a college president.

Many readers of this blog know Nathan Hatch for his award-winning The Democratization of American Christianity.  But did you know that he was pulling in $4,004,617 as president of Wake Forest University? Wow!

Learn more here.

It’s also worth noting that Jerry Falwell Jr. makes $958,021 as president of Liberty University.

Good Advice: A Cover Letter is Not a Vita and a Vita is Not a Cover Letter

Curriculum vitae written on typewriter

Karen Kelsky explains at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Question: I’m preparing my job documents for the fall and looking for ways to economize. Can I just write a really short cover letter since all the information I would put in a letter is already on my CV? The cover letter feels redundant.

NO.

And the reason for that is — they are two different documents. They have different functions and are designed to help the search committee ascertain distinctly different things. Summer is a good time to go over the basics of both documents as candidates prepare for a new academic hiring season.

Read the rest here.

Princeton’s Robert George on Intellectual and Ideological Diversity in the Academy

7b24a-princeton

While I was visiting a big state university a couple of weeks ago I had a robust, spirited, and civil conversation with the history faculty about how to teach controversial or morally problematic issues.  Many of the history professors in the room said that they use their classrooms to advocate for certain political causes (all on the left) or see no problem giving their personal opinion about a particular issue or idea that arises from the study of the past.

I pushed back. I wondered whether the history classroom was primarily the place where such moral criticism should happen.  Those familiar with my Why Study History?: A Historical Introduction know that I think there is a difference between moral philosophy (ethics) and history.  Though I obviously have my opinions, and many of them are informed by my understanding of the past, I rarely bring those opinions into the classroom.  For example, the only time I talk about Donald Trump in my classroom is when he gets something wrong about history or uses the past irresponsibly to justify this or that policy.   I do the same thing with any public figure who manipulates the past for political gain.

In other words, my blog and other social media feeds are not the best representations of what my classroom looks like.

Robert George of Princeton University is very conservative.  I have seen him defending moral conservatism in public talks, in writing, and on social media.  But if I read his recent interview with Matthew Stein at The College Fix, I don’t think these conservative political and moral convictions dominate his classroom.  George has some very interesting things to say about intellectual and ideological diversity in the classroom. Here is a taste:

The College Fix: In your Open Minds Conference panel, you mentioned that you don’t think professors should “use their classrooms as a soapbox for advocacy,” and that you and professors like Cornel West make your classrooms as intellectually stimulating and valuable as possible by honestly portraying both sides of an argument. This seems to hit on a big issue with the universities today, as many professors of the “progressive orthodoxy” you later mentioned seem to use their positions to influence their students into becoming activists of related social causes. How do you think society can address this issue, particularly given the system of tenure and the sheer magnitude of the problem?

Robert George: Like most of the problems in academia—and society more broadly—today, what is needed above all is courage. We need the courage to speak the truth even when it is uncomfortable, and even when truth-speaking carries risks. Professors who seek to indoctrinate their students are betraying a sacred trust. They are supposed to be educators. If there is an antonym to “educating,” it’s “indoctrinating.” Professors (and other teachers) who engage in indoctrination need to be confronted. Certainly administrators need to do this. Fellow faculty members need to do it. And students themselves need to do it, too.

Is this risky, especially for students? You bet it is. But that’s where the virtue of courage comes in. All of us—including students—need to muster the courage to call out teachers who betray their sacred trust. In addition, professors who understand the importance of truly educating students, and who grasp the fundamental difference between education and indoctrination, need to set an excellent example for their colleagues—especially younger colleagues. Together, we can establish a milieu that powerfully discourages indoctrination.

CF: You also mentioned that you should create an atmosphere of “unsettling” each other in the classroom. Looking at the campus more generally, there are continually accounts of the opposite atmosphere in regards to discussing “unsettling ideas,” whether it be by an outside speaker being shut down or students on campus being afraid to express unpopular viewpoints. How can this negative general atmosphere on campus be improved to encourage students to act out the ideal intellectual atmosphere that you described?

RG: Again, courage is the key. Students must have the courage to express dissent—even if they are alone or in a small minority in the class in holding a particular view. And faculty members need to model courage for their students—and for their colleagues (especially younger colleagues). All of us must overcome the natural fear we feel in oppressive environments of the sort that too often exist today in college, high school, and even middle school classrooms. And when a dissenter does speak up in defiance of a campus dogma, all of us (and not only those who happen to share his or her dissenting opinion) need swiftly to provide that individual with support.

That is how we will establish an environment in which people are free—and feel and know they are free—to speak their minds, thus benefiting the entire community by contributing to robust, civil campus debates.

CF: Identity politics was one issue you touched on in the Q&A, which you said has a negative effect on both college campuses and society at large. Could you speak a little more on how identity politics and student groups organized around group identity has negatively affected the university? Are there any common issues of identity politics amongst the faculty? Has it had any effects on your or other professors’ ability to create the positive intellectual atmosphere you previously mentioned?

RG: Identity politics, and the dogmas of the phenomenon that has come to be known as “intersectionality,” harm learning environments by encouraging groupthink and stigmatizing dissent.

One especially regrettable consequence of the rise of identitarianism is the pressure placed on female and minority students to hold and express opinions that are in line with what women and members of minority groups are “supposed” to think. If you are female, you are “supposed” to hold a certain view on abortion and the status of unborn human life. If you are black, you are “supposed” to express a certain view on the desirability of affirmative action programs of certain sorts. If you are Latino, you are “supposed” to have a certain set of beliefs on immigration policy.

I find this reprehensible. People need to think for themselves. And they need to do that, and need to know that they are entitled to do that, whether they are male or female, black, white, green, blue, or purple.

 

Read the entire interview here.  He also has some interesting things to say about Liberty University.

Erin Bartram on Leaving Her Students

d4465-classroom2bphoto

If you heard our interview with Erin Bartram on Episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you will, at times, hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the end of her career as an academic historian.  Many of us know Bartram as a gifted historian and teacher who announced she was leaving academia in her powerful essay “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind.” If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so.  Then go to the podcast and listen to our conversation about it.

In her recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bartram reflects on leaving her students behind.  Here is a taste:

 

If you decide to tell students that you’re leaving academe, you will face the inevitable questions about why, and what you plan to do next. You may have made your decision to leave months earlier, but explaining it now — even if you think you have come to terms with it — can be stressful. Your students’ reactions may well bring up emotions you thought you’d dealt with.

This is also a situation where bureaucratic slip-ups — endemic in large institutions especially — can make things worse. Say, for example, that the registrar or the bookstore uses software that automatically populates the next semester’s courses with the names of the faculty members who most recently taught them. A departing scholar can find herself forced to explain to eager students that no, she won’t be teaching here next semester, and no, she isn’t going to be a professor anymore, and yes, she wishes things were different.

When you tell them you’re leaving, students may tell you how they’d hoped to take such-and-such course with you next year, or how they always thought you’d advise their honors thesis when they were seniors. They may cry and get upset and ask you to stay or at least not give up on the career itself.

And when any of these students persist in asking why you can’t just keep trying, it’s OK to be blunt and tell them exactly why. You don’t need to give a multipoint analysis of the dismal faculty-job market, but you shouldn’t feel that you have to downplay what has happened to you.

It can be hard to bear the emotional weight of their reactions along with your own. Think about that as you approach how and when to tell your students about your departure.

Read the entire piece here.

What strikes me most about this piece is the fact that we are losing someone with a passion for teaching history and a love for students.   Believe it or not, you don’t often find this kind of passion in academia.

What if College Classes Had Corporate Sponsors?

700club - 1440 - 455 - angle 2 (0;00;06;11)

What if the 700 Club sponsored a university course on Comparative Religion?

As universities become more and more corporate, writer Suzanne Fernandez Gray wonders what it might look like if academic courses eventually get corporate sponsors.  Read her very funny piece at McSweeney’s.

Here are a few of my favorites:

A-H 350 TWENTIETH CENTURY ART

Sponsored by Hobby Lobby

Through lectures, readings, discussions and research, this course examines major issues raised in art and criticism from 1900-1999. Students will learn that Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers are definitely just flowers, and that Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is proof of the collapse of American morals and the need for prayer in public schools.

 

JOU 532 ETHICS OF JOURNALISM

Section 001: Sponsored by Fox News Network

Section 002: Sponsored by CNN

An examination of ethics in the media. Students will reason through issues that arise in the practice of journalism like how to cut off the mic when an opposing guest’s argument gets too credible and how to draw fancy charts to make nonsensical points look like facts.

PS 440 THE PRESIDENCY

Sponsored by Koch Industries

This course explores the political genius of the 45th President of the United States through his relationships with foreign leaders like Little Rocket Man, Mad Alex and The Dopey Prince, while also demonstrating the ineptitude of those who hate America, including Cryin’ Chuck, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein and Pocahontas. Part of the class will be devoted to the President’s tweets and how people in the fake news media, including Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd, Psycho Joe Scarborough, Little George Stephanopoulos and Dumb as a Rock Mika can’t pull anything over on the man Sen. Orrin Hatch recently called a better president than Lincoln or Washington.

RS 130 INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE RELIGION

Sponsored by The 700 Club


Comparative study of major world religions of which there is only one: Christianity. Students will explore the merits of the Spanish Inquisition and learn how something similar should be implemented in the U.S. in the interest of national security, only with Evangelicals in charge instead of Catholics. Course fees cover a field trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY where students will be able to see a diorama of dinosaurs aboard an exact replica of Noah’s Ark.

Read them all here.  Enroll now! 🙂

Who Did You Thank in Your Ph.D Dissertation Acknowledgments?

b36d2-bruce-springsteen-pyramid-001

The Boss has yet to make it into the acknowledgments section of one of my books, although he is mentioned in *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

This does not come close to the greatest acknowledgments section of all time (a story we broke here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home), but it is interesting.  Jennifer Polk, a history Ph.D who now runs the website Beyond the Professoriate, thanked her favorite band in her doctoral dissertation. She is now asking others to share any unusual words of gratitude from the acknowledgment page(s) of their dissertations.

Inside Higher Ed has the story here.  See the Twitter response to Polk’s request here.

I should also come clean here.  (This is not the first time I have written about this at the blog).  I thanked a fictional character in the acknowledgements of my first book.  His name was Jayber Crow.

OAH Dispatch: Sometimes “I just need to listen”

Warner

Mary R.S. Bracy teaches history at Warner College in Lake Wales, Florida

Here is Mary R.S. Bracy‘s latest post from the Organization of American Historians meeting in Sacramento. Click here for Mary’s previous OAH post: “She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story.”  Enjoy!

As is usually the case when I go to conferences, I have about five million things rattling around in my head at once. Yesterday was a full day. Today I’m headed back home, so I feel like this  has just been too quick!

I sat down to write this dispatch last night, but I was simply too tired to type any words on the screen. Our panel started off the day at 8:00 am. I was excited to get going, but was a bit disappointed when we only had three audience members.  I guess this is what happens when you’re up against a panel on “Hamilton!” I have participated in a lot of conference panels, but this was one of my favorite.  It was first panel I’ve been on where I’m the one with the most experience!  I would have never been brave enough as an MA student to even think about presenting a paper at a big conference like the OAH…so I was really happy to see my fellow panelists doing that.

I like to get out of my comfort zone when I go to conferences, so the other panel I attended yesterday was “When All That Is Left Is Words: The Writing Sensibilities of Civil War Soldiers.” Sarah Gardner (Mercer University), Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College), and Timothy Williams (University of Oregon) each presented papers. I was especially intrigued by Professor Williams’s paper “Prison Pens: The Culture of Writing in Civil War Prisons,” which focused on prisons as intellectual spaces.

I only made it to two panels overall, which is about what I expected.  I gave up trying to do everything at conferences a few years ago.  If there are papers I really want to see, or colleagues I want to support, I do that, but otherwise I simply try to absorb the intellectual atmosphere.  Sometimes this is exhausting; other times it’s completely inspiring.

This time, I’m taking away a deep sense of inspiration from my fellow panelists, who are all young and excited and passionate about what they’re doing.  I am in no way old, but I am disillusioned.  The academy has hurt people I care about.  It hurts to see my friends leave the profession.  It’s been frustrating to talk with them as they fill out hundreds of job applications, only to have nothing.

But I’m an optimist at heart, and being on a panel with graduate students fed that optimism.  They know that this job market is terrible. But they love the job so much that (at least for right now) the problems seem like a distant future.  I tried to offer a dose of reality.  I mentioned that the job market is terrible and graduate students need to be thoughtful about the future.  But when they started talking excitedly about passing comps, planning dissertations, and writing grants, I just shut up.  Because in my disillusioned world, I just needed to listen.

The True Story Behind Academic Conferences

Classroom_at_Gaylord_Opryland_Resort_&_Convention_Center

This is so true.  Here is a recent post titled “The conference cycle as it really is” published at a blog titled “Not of General Interest.”

1. Call for papers comes out. 

“That looks so interesting, and the conference is in a cool place!  I have to submit something. Do I have something already written? Nah, but the New Direction will spur me to do better work.”

2. Acceptances/rejections come out.

If I didn’t get in: Mildly sad, then “Oh, well, that’s a relief.”

If I did get in: “Hooray, hooray!  So excited to go and present this work that I haven’t written yet.”

3. Months intervening.

 “I’m doing the research, but I really ought to write the paper well ahead.  Nah, I’ve got this Deadline on Another Thing- Crisis Level Admin Task – Teaching and prep – Papers to Grade. I have lots of time.”

4. A couple of months or weeks before the conference. 

“I said I’d write about WHAT? Who wrote this proposal?”

Read points 5-8 here.

HT: Inside Higher Ed

Don’t Text During a Job Interview

Text

Who does this?

Here is a taste of Karen Klesky‘s recent entry at “The Professor is In”:

During a recent campus interview at my university, a candidate met with department members for dinner and basically spent the entire meal texting. Is this really the new normal?

Let me take this moment to assure you: No, it is not. It might be tempting to think that it is because texting is so endemic in our social spaces, including professional ones. Tenured (and sometimes even untenured) faculty members text their way through department meetings (yes, I am looking at you!).

Read the rest here if you still need to be convinced that texting during a job interview is not a good idea.

Mary Beth Norton on Women in Academe

Norton_11Norton is the president of the American Historical Association and Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University.   She reflects on her experience as a woman in the academy in a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy.”  Here is a taste of Norton’s contribution:

In three books on 17th-century Anglo-America, I have focused on women who exercised or sought power: Anne Hutchinson, a religious leader in early Massachusetts; Lady Frances Berkeley, the aristocratic wife of the governor of Virginia in the 1670s; and the so-called “afflicted girls” of Salem, Mass., in 1692, who for a few months upended normal hierarchies with their complaints about witchcraft. In the first two instances, the women in question were high status, living in a world in which status was more important than gender, and in which low-status men were expected to defer to high-status women as well as to high-status men. In the third case, the young women were low status, many of them servants, thus making their impact on society so shocking that we still puzzle over how to interpret and explain why their accusations led to such disastrous consequences.

It might seem that academic hierarchies are comparable to the early modern world I have spent so many years studying. Are tenure and a full professorship at a university the equivalent of 17th-century aristocratic standing for women? Superficially the analogy might appear correct, but it ignores the intervening centuries, when — starting in the early 18th century — gender came to override status to such an extent that all women, regardless of their rank, were denied access to the reins of power. That history of the overwhelming effect of gender on one’s identity remains relevant for female academics today. But it can be minimized, as my career suggests.

In 1969, I joined the history department at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. I had three female colleagues: two other junior women and a senior chaired professor, a rarity in those days. Yet that pattern was familiar to me from my undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, where the only woman in the history department was a distinguished older scholar. Harvard, my graduate institution, had just one female historian, who was untenured and had been selected from among recent Harvard Ph.D.s. I learned subsequently that both the senior women I knew had experienced significant gender discrimination during their careers.

Read the rest here.

Alan Jacobs on White Christian Males in the Academy

Baylor

Jacobs is responding here to Rod Dreher’s post at The American Conservative.  I was struck by this paragraph in Jacobs’s response:

I’m not exactly a pollyanna about these matters. I have said over and over again that, thanks to my long career at a Christian college and the specifically Christian character of much of my writing, I am almost certainly unemployable in my field (English literature) outside the world of Christian higher education. And there’s bigotry at work there — no doubt about it. On the other hand, I have been able to publish at some of the best university presses in the world, which also shouldn’t be possible if Rod’s friend’s account of the academic humanities is accurate.

Read the entire post here.

Is Jacobs right when he says that white Christian males are “certainly unemployable” in humanities fields “outside the world of Christian higher education?”

Don’t Nod Off While Listening To A Job Talk

36167-nassau_hall_princeton

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Princeton University historian Jeremy Adelman discusses some of the bad behavior he has witnessed as a former chair of the department.

Here is a taste:

First a confession of my own misdemeanor. One of the worst things a colleague — and especially a department chair — can do to other colleagues, higher or lower in the food chain, is to fall asleep in front of them. There’s no quicker way to convey boredom, disdain, indifference. Those droopy eyelids do more to ruin a relationship than all the raises or promotions in the world. (Well, maybe not all of them.) Undisguised languor is a killer, and I do it all the time; I can’t fake being awake if my pineal gland is at work. It’s worst in late afternoons, when history departments love to have their public seminars and job talks. Almost no matter how exciting the speaker is, I nod off. By now, I suspect I have a reputation as my university’s version of Sleepy. The only upside is that I am such a serial slumberer than most colleagues know not to take it personally.

For better or worse, academics rely on relationships, and sleeping is a relationship-buster. The problem is mine, but my trait makes it everyone else’s. And that is what I want to talk about: personal behaviors that impose a toll on our collective efforts.

Read the entire piece here.

Ghost Dissertation Advisers

harvard history
I am thankful that I had an excellent dissertation adviser who cared about my work.  Katrin Schultheiss, the current chair of the Department of History at George Washington University, did not have the same experience.  She described her experience (at Harvard) in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Here is a taste:

Back in the late 1980s, I applied for admission to various doctoral programs in history. A couple of months later, I was shocked to receive a phone call from an internationally renowned scholar. He congratulated me on being admitted to his university’s program and invited me to the campus to talk with him in person.

When I arrived at the appointed spot, a young woman introduced herself as one of Professor Famous’s graduate students, apologized on his behalf, and said he could not be there after all but she would be happy to talk with me. Far from being offended that I had been bumped from his schedule, I was flattered that I had made it onto his radar at all.

I ended up matriculating at the university, though I eventually switched to another male adviser (for intellectual reasons and not because Professor Famous tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter). My new adviser — I’ll call him Professor Prominent — was well regarded but not a superstar like Professor Famous. Professor Prominent was an excellent teacher and my conversations with him were always pleasant, and sometimes even inspiring.

I accepted as “bad timing” the fact that he had a secretary put a pink “While You Were Out” message in my mailbox informing me that he would be out of town for my comprehensive oral exams. But maybe that was a sign of what was to come. When it came to providing guidance and feedback on my dissertation, I remember clearly the downward slope of his engagement with my work: I received a page of comments on my first chapter, a postcard of comments on the next two, and an efficient “looks good!” on the remaining three.

Read the rest here.

*Inside Higher Ed* Covers the Erin Bartram Blog Post on Leaving Academia

AHA-Building

Headquarters of the American Historical Association, Washington D.C.

We blogged about this yesterday.  Get up to speed here.

Here is a taste of “Calling Academe’s Bluff.”

Janet Watson, an associate professor of history at UConn, worked with Bartram in graduate school and reached out to her about her essay.

That Bartram is now in such a position “is further evidence of how the academic job market is increasingly dysfunctional in ways that are harmful both to students and to the people who teach them,” Watson said Monday.

Joshua Eyler, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an adjunct associate professor of humanities at Rice University, shared Bartram’s essay on Twitter. He told Inside Higher Ed that there isn’t “a lot of space for this kind of grieving, which is why the kind of frank and open discussion of it in her essay is so important.”

Agreeing with Bartram, he said, “I think it is still true that the dominant reason people enroll in Ph.D. programs in the humanities is to one day be faculty.” That doesn’t mean everyone does so for that reason, he said, “but it is a major motivating force.”

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said his organization and the Modern Language Association are working on career diversity precisely because they’re confident that keeping people like Bartram “in our respective communities benefits us, the individuals and public culture.”

“If we cannot find good ways to maintain productive relationships among historians who follow diverse career paths, there is not only individual loss but also for the discipline and public culture,” he added via email.

Read the entire piece here.

Erin Bartram: “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind”

Bartram

Mary Sanders Bracy (l) and Erin Bartram (r) at 2013 AHA in New Orleans

I am a big Erin Bartram fan.  We have been on a panel together.  She has written multiple posts here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I have learned a lot from her about teaching.  Frankly, I can’t think of a person more deserving of a tenure-track teaching job in a college or university history department.

The academic profession needs to deal with her post about leaving academia:

Here is a taste:

It happened during AHA.

I was sitting at home, revising my manuscript introduction and feeling jealous of all of my historian friends at the conference, when I got an email telling me my last (and best) hope for a tenure-track job this year had evaporated.

I’d promised myself that this would be my last year on the market. Now, I’d promised myself that last year, and I’d decided to try again, but this time, I knew it was over.

I closed my laptop and walked out of my office. In that moment, I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by the trappings of a life that had just crumbled around me. The perfect reading lamp, the drawer of fountain pen ink, the dozens of pieces of scratch paper taped the walls, full of ideas to pursue. The hundreds of books surrounding me, collected over nearly a dozen years, seemed like nothing more than kindling in that moment.

I cried, but pretty quickly I picked myself up and started thinking about the future. The circumstances of the job I didn’t get were particularly distressing, so I discussed it with non-academic friends, explaining over and over again that yes, this is the way my field works, and no, it wasn’t surprising or shocking to me, and no, I won’t be able to “come back” later, at least in the way that I’d want to, and yes, this was probably what was always going to happen. And then I started looking forward.

Only now do I realize how messed up my initial reaction was.

I was sad and upset, but I didn’t even start to grieve for several weeks, not because I hadn’t processed it, but because I didn’t feel I had the right to grieve. After all, I knew the odds of getting a tenure-track job were low, and I knew that they were lower still because I didn’t go to an elite program. And after all, wasn’t this ultimately my failure? If I’d been smarter, or published more, or worked harder, or had a better elevator pitch – if my brain had just been better, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it had happened, and if I were ultimately to blame for it, what right did I have to grieve?

Read the rest here.  Today I grieve with her.

Hidden Hiring Criteria in Academia

Stony-Brook-University-Campus-2017w

My Ph.D alma mater: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY

Back in the late 1990s I was a finalist for a job at Midwestern state university.  During the campus visit a senior faculty member, who was not on the search committee, pulled me into his office and said to me: “You don’t want this job–you can do better.”  (This, by the way, happened to me on two other occasions, at two different universities, when I was on the job market).  I thought I gave a pretty good job talk, but I sensed that half the faculty members in the room were disengaged and the other half seemed unusually critical of my work.

During the interview I developed a positive relationship with a member of the search committee.  This person drove me to the airport at the end of the two-day affair and told me that I had no chance at the job.  The Dean had asked the department to hire a woman.  I wasn’t angry.  The department was indeed male heavy.  I didn’t even think the trip was a waste of time since I got some valuable interviewing experience.  But everyone I met during that interview, with the exception of my new friend, lied to me.  Everyone knew I had no chance.  The faculty in the department and the administration I met with were just going through the motions.

I thought about this experience after reading Brian Leiter‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Academic Ethics: ‘Hidden’ Hiring Criteria.”  Here is a taste:

Certainly in some searches, race or gender is a hidden factor but not a decisive one. The same goes for hidden criteria based on differences in scholarship or pedigree. For example, despite the committee’s leanings, an excellent theorist may prevail over a quantitative scholar, or an outstanding candidate from an unranked program may be hired by the pedigree snobs.

But when the hidden criteria involve decisive but unmentioned factors — more often demographic and personal than scholarly ones — applicants are effectively being lied to. They are led to believe that all applicants who meet the advertised criteria will be considered when, in fact, only the candidates of a certain gender or race will get serious consideration, or, in the extreme spousal-hiring case, only one candidate will get serious consideration.

That last scenario is surely the most objectionable, since the department is basically defrauding all of the applicants (except one) as well as the legal authorities (the law’s equal-opportunity requirements demand a public ad and a genuinely open search). There may be circumstances under which a department should be permitted to hire, for retention reasons, the spouse of a crucial faculty member, but it should not be permitted to do so under the guise of a real job search and at the expense of soliciting hundreds of pointless applications. Any faculty member confronted with such a rigged search should report it to the institution’s legal office and decline to be part of the process.

Read the rest here.