Category Archives: academentia

March 11, 2012, 3:49 pm

Why is tuition rising?

It troubled me when President Obama scoldingly said, “We’re putting colleges on notice: you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year”. The UC has raised tuition, but it hasn’t been on its own initiative; it’s been because the state has cut funding to higher education.

Now Robert Frank riffs on Obama’s comment, attributing rising tuition to rising faculty salaries.

To recruit professors, universities must pay salaries roughly in line with those made possible by productivity growth in other sectors. So while rising salaries needn’t lead to higher prices in many industries, they do in academia and many other service industries.

As they say about the International Jewish-Zionist Monetary Conspiracy, if there is one I want my share.1 I don’t think rising faculty salaries are the primary cause of increasing tuition costs.

Frank’s colleague Ronald Ehrenberg …

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March 5, 2012, 11:15 am

Historians and Wikipedia.

If you’ve ever wondered to yourself why I don’t edit, say, the Keynesian section on the New Deal on Wikipedia, you might want to look into the now much-covered story of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s valiant effort to get Haymarket treated properly. (We have previously drawn on Messer-Kruse’s excellent work here.)

To be clear, this is, if not quite laziness on my part, then simply a prioritizing of time and energy. I believe in what Messer-Kruse is doing and I wish him greatest success.

February 15, 2012, 2:01 pm

Fleece and exist.

Yesterday in the Aggie one read,

The UC sent cease-and-desist letters to on Nov. 10, 2010, a note-sharing website owned by the Santa Clara company Chegg, as well as on Jan. 10, 2011, appealing to the websites to stop encouraging students to post notes on their sites. They remained in negotiations for several months before the sites removed the content.

Today, I received an email from someone named Tracy King, Content Administrator, reading

Hi there,

Thanks for being part of the Notehall family. We are working hard to expand our services at UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-DAVIS and need your help.

Apply to be a Note Taker this term.

The Position:
The job is a flexible semester long position. Depending on the class you cover you can earn up to $450.

The responsibilities:
• Take notes for a class you’re currently enrolled in
• Create study guide…

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February 13, 2012, 8:07 am

The Warren Buffett University in California.

Michael Bérubé runs the numbers on Penn State:

In 1985, the state provided 45 percent of Penn State’s budget; in 2011 it provided 6 percent. In 1985, in-state tuition was just over $2,500; today it is over $16,000. Over the past twenty-five years, the cost of a public college education has increasingly been offloaded onto individual students and their families, as education has been redefined from a public good to a private investment.

And he concludes:

A fully privatized Penn State no longer has any reason to call itself “Penn State.” Indeed, the name would amount almost to false advertising, since there would be nothing “State” about us. And that means a whole new vista would be open to us – and in different ways, to Temple and to Pitt. In two words: naming rights … Let the bidding begin.

My hopes are in the title.

January 20, 2012, 5:06 pm

A Footnote For Him On The Way To Greater Things

Ronald Reagan with Newt Gingrich
What did you say your name was?

Reading this Wall Street Journal article about Newt Gingrich’s short but odd career as a history professor,* I felt the need to explore what the other people in the story were thinking. Obviously, I have no direct knowledge of West Georgia College or the people there, but I have been at an academic institution for a while.

In addition to the normal application materials, Gingrich submitted his reading list for the last three months to the history department at WGC. He had read 26 books, though they were “too eclectic for a specialist” Gingrich confessed in his letter to the department. Nonetheless, Benjamin Kennedy, the chair, talked to him on the phone, thought he sounded nice, and hired him. Even early on, Gingrich was not shy:

A year into his first full-time teaching job, Newt Gingrich applied to be college president, submitting with his…

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January 15, 2012, 10:59 am

Higher learning.

Mitt Romney is flacking for his campaign donor’s business, “Full Sail University.” I eagerly await even one of our leaders sending his children to such an outfit.

December 30, 2011, 1:16 pm

As Tevye would say, “on the other hand …”

Some excellent advice.

  • It is best to go on the job market your last ABD year, so that you’ll appear fresh AND it’s preferable to have your degree in hand and a few years of teaching experience.
  • One should publish aggressively in field-leading journals and seek to publish one’s dissertation as soon as practicable in order to stand out AND it’s best to go the more traditional route and hold back on publishing one’s research so as to save it for the tenure probationary period.
  • One should cultivate as wide a teaching competence as possible so as to serve a variety of departmental needs AND one needs to have a clear, narrow specialization.
  • One should jump at the opportunity to do adjunct work in order to stay in the field and develop one’s teaching portfolio AND one should be cautious about doing adjunct work lest it leave you with the taint of being a second-rater.

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November 27, 2011, 4:18 pm

Lest we forget.

Under the title, “Watch this man,” the London Review of Books publishes Pankaj Mishra’s review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. The essay opens with a riff on the “this man Goddard” scene from The Great Gatsby, in which Tom Buchanan rails against the decline of the white man’s West. Noting that “Goddard” stood in for Lothrop Stoddard, the real-life racist, Mishra refers to the arguments of Ferguson’s first major book, The Pity of War, as “Stoddardesque laments about the needless emasculation of Anglo-Saxon power.” Mishra refers also to Ferguson’s “bluster about the white man’s burden.”

November 21, 2011, 9:38 am


Cathy Davidson makes excellent points about the UC Davis situation and how higher education should respond in general:

I keep hearing the arguments that universities have to call in the police to protect the students, that the Occupy encampments are unsanitary, unsafe, and insecure. That’s almost comical when you teach at Duke where “tenting” is one of our most venerable student traditions. A tent-city called K-Ville has been thriving since 1986. Krzyzewskiville ( is an encampment of students staying in tents, in winter, for weeks at time in order not to lose priority getting into Duke basketball games. (more…)

November 21, 2011, 8:50 am

It ain’t me, babe.

If you want to know why tuitions at American universities are rising, don’t look at the likes of me: faculty compensation isn’t going up. Felix Salmon explains what you might guess:

spending on faculty compensation is never more than 40% of total spending, and “has remained steady or decreased slightly over time”. Then have a look at the numbers.

Overall, if we exclude for-profit schools, which were a tiny part of the landscape in 1999, we have seen tuition fees rise by 32% between 1999 and 2009. Over the same period, instruction costs rose just 5.6% — the lowest rate of inflation of any of the components of education services. (“Student services costs” and “operations and maintenance costs” saw the greatest inflation, at 15.2% and 18.1% respectively, but even that is only half the rate that tuition increased.)

The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has…

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November 5, 2011, 10:22 pm

Stop digging.

Anthony Grafton on the crisis (“if there is a crisis,” as 1984-era Hal Riney would say) in higher education. One thing that’s sure: the effort to crack into the top athletic tier isn’t the right answer. At least, it’s not the answer if the question is, “how do you make colleges better?”

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The system runs, in part, on its failures. Administrators count on the tuition paid, from borrowed money, by undergraduates who they know will drop out before they use up many services. To provide teaching they exploit instructors still in graduate school, many of whom they know will also drop out and not demand tenure-track jobs. Faculty, once they have found a berth, often become blind to the problems and deaf to the cries of their own indentured students. And even where the will to do better is present, the means are often used for very different ends.

In many…

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November 1, 2011, 10:23 am

Strunk and who?

This advice on business writing, although pitched against academic writing, actually seems like pretty sound advice for academics, except maybe for the advice to use “I” and “you”. But: don’t assume a captive audience, get to the point, cut, especially cut fancy words, and it’s okay to begin sentences with conjunctions—all of that sounds pretty good.

November 16, 2010, 11:14 am

But what about the Frege-Geach problem?!

Am I understanding this right? A teacher starts talking to a guy in a bar, tells him a story about how another teacher used the word “nigger,” and this results in the storyteller getting into trouble?

The intuitive sense of unfairness comes from the fact that we all understand the difference between genuinely asserting and using the same language in a way that doesn’t assert. You might overhear me utter the phrase “Ari is so handsome” as I’m in the midst of saying “Only Mrs. Kelman could think that Ari is so handsome,” for example. While the phrase itself retains its meaning in the two contexts, the sentences mean very different things.

As I recall, Frege’s general point about this is that there’s no operator that indicates what follows is being asserted. Phrases like “I’m genuinely asserting that….” are themselves subject to the same problem– they can be put in contexts where…

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November 7, 2010, 8:04 am

Not really sure what to make of this.

I can see the benefits of online learning, especially for certain kinds of introductory level information dump courses and for students who aren’t able to make regular class times.   But I can’t see how someone can learn to pronounce a foreign language without an instructor encouraging you to speak the language in class, and what’s strange about the push for online education is that it comes as elite places eschew traditional lecturing in favor of other methods that are supposed to be better for learning.   Things to keep an eye on:  what’s the attrition rate?   Does it lead to better or worse class performance?

This isn’t really about the technology itself.  It’s just a tool. But… look.  When boomers were graduating from college, a majority of their courses were taught by tenured faculty, even at state schools.  (If you have a tenured researcher lecture, do you get to say…

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October 28, 2010, 5:51 am

“This is the first time you have ever talked to me. Ever.”

Unfortunately, I think the conclusion is that English PhDs aren’t as funny as lawyers.