Tag Archives: job

Proving Discrimination Is Almost Impossible

Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit
against the University of Iowa law school ended a few weeks ago when a jury
declared that the school did not submit her to political discrimination when it
rejected her application for a job. Wagner made a second allegation–that her
equal protection rights were violated because the law school held her political
activism against her–which was not ruled upon, the judge declaring a mistrial
because the jury couldn’t reach a decision, leaving open the possibility of
future action by Wagner’s attorney. Indeed, the Chronicle reports
that Wagner has filed papers asking for a retrial on all counts.

The first verdict wasn’t unexpected.  Wagner had to
prove that faculty members voted against her for her political views, which run
well to the Right.  But of course, nobody on hiring committees ever
says outright, “She’s a conservative–she’s out!”  They know
better–Schmidt cites one witness who “testified that no faculty member
would ‘be stupid enough’ to cite politics as the reason for turning down an applicant”–and
besides, they don’t have to.  In the hiring process there are so many
stages and variables that it’s easy to drop a conservative candidate for a
dozen other more or less non-political reasons.  “She isn’t a good
fit,” one might say, or “We already have strengths in her area, we need someone
in another field,” another could argue, or “I don’t think she handled questions
very well in the interview” could be the line.  The outcome is
assured and nobody needs to raise delicate matters along the way.

In Wagner’s case, a clear
distinction came up in her qualifications relative the person who got the job: She was one of five candidates chosen from a pool of 50 applicants invited to
present to the university’s faculty.

But that enthusiasm died soon after her presentation. The job
was given to Matt Williamson, a candidate who had never practiced law, had no
published works and was an ardent liberal who frequently criticized
Republicans, according to testimony and court documents presented last week to
the jury.

That a candidate who never practiced law and had no publications
should prevail over Wagner sounds fishy.  The Chronicle story
relates, too, that the person hired resigned a year later for “poor
performance.”  One could also mention the disparate-outcome argument
so beloved by liberals: the law school has one registered Republican and 46
registered Democrats.  Finally, one should note the email
law professor and former associate dean Jon Carlson sent to the law school dean
after the first rejection in which he worried that the faculty would balk at
the hiring of Wagner due to
“her politics (and especially her activism
about it).”

But the faculty had an answer: she botched the
presentation.  When asked about teaching “legal analysis,” an
important part of the job, they say, she declined.  Several witnesses
repeated that criticism, even though Wagner never recalls saying so (she showed
her pre-interview notes in court that displayed her intention to teach the
subject), and a couple of witnesses agreed with her, including Carlson and Mark
Osiel, another professor in the law school. The law school taped Wagner’s
presentation and could have offered the tape to settle the question. However,
the university erased the tape months after the hiring process had ended.

The coda to this story is equally frustrating. Just last week reporter
Jason Clayworth spoke
with four members of the jury who told him that jurors did believe that
political discrimination had taken place, but that they couldn’t hold one
person responsible.
This outcome shows how
far universities are able to fiddle with the hiring process with
impunity.  Here we have a jury convinced that political discrimination
took place, but they can’t convict because they have the wrong defendant. 
But the plaintiff couldn’t pick another defendant; indeed, federal law dictated
that the dean be made the “responsible party.” So people who feel they’ve been
treated unfairly face a Catch-22, and universities can carry on as usual.

Universities Are Vocational Schools

Why do students go to college? A new poll has a one-word
answer: money. That’s one of the findings in a broad Gallup survey of college admissions officers done for Inside
Higher Ed
. The admissions officers seem to believe that those planning to
attend college view it largely as a signaling device that directs the best and
brightest young Americans to the best and highest-paying jobs. It is not
primarily about acquiring knowledge (“human capital”), critical learning or
leadership skills, or better perceiving the difference between right and wrong,
but more about achieving the American Dream of a comfortable, moderately
affluent life.

To cite one statistic, 99 percent of admission directors
at public four-year colleges agreed or strongly agreed that “parents of
applicants place high importance on the ability of degree programs to help
students get a good job.” With regards to the prospective students themselves,
“only” 87 percent of the counselors agree that getting a good job is
important/very important.  Most of the
counselors also agree, at all forms of higher education institutions, that
their schools are putting more emphasis on job placement.

Continue reading Universities Are Vocational Schools

Some Hope for Higher Ed Reform

The current conversation on higher ed reform coming is unusually platitudinous even for an election year. This was clearest earlier this year during the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the proposed federal student loan interest rate, a subject fairly inconsequential in larger problem of sky-high college costs. In his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, President Obama claimed he would work to “cut college tuition in half” in the next ten years. How he would do this, or if he truly grasped what he was saying, is anyone’s guess.

But Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have shown a great deal of care in crafting the “Know Before You Go Act.” The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, will “support statewide individual-level integrated postsecondary education data systems.” More specifically, under the proposed bill the federal government will help states coordinate student educational and postgraduate employment data. The bill’s aim is to help consumers make better choices about the products they are considering. Per a press release from Wyden’s office, the bill focuses on making the following metrics more accessible to consumers:

  1. Post-graduation average annual earning;
  2. Rates of remedial enrollment, credit accumulation, and graduation;
  3. Average cost (both before and after financial aid) of the program and average debt accumulated;
  4. The effects of remedial education and financial aid on credential attainment and a greater understanding of what student success can mean.

We should praise the Know Before You Go Act for several reasons. First, instead of trying to instituting IPAB style price-control to help reform educational choices and costs, it respects the consumer’s volition to make his or her own determinations as to what is best for their particular circumstance. As Rubio said, “We want people to know what the new jobs, skills, careers in the 21st century are. The reason you need to know what your professional prospects are is that you have to weigh that against how much you will borrow.” He continued, “I graduated with $125,000 in student loans. That’s nobody’s fault – it was an investment for me. We want kids to have access to information before they make this investment.”

Secondly, the bill does not create a new federal database to obtain data by tracking students. Instead, its coordinates already extant data gathering mechanisms in the states. In describing this aspect of the bill, Wyden sounded like a Republican. “The new database is state-based and individually considered. The states can do this on their own but there’s a problem. There’s no uniform standards. If there’s no standards…then the system is failing families.”

Lastly, of concern to many conservatives, Wyden emphasized that the bill would produce a glut of computer science or accounting majors, to the neglect of the liberal arts. “This legislation is about empowering students to make their own choices. Are we going to miss out on opportunities for rich liberal arts education? I reject the either/or choice. A lot of universities are starting to pick up on labor trends – after 9/11 and Arabic for instance. Is it liberal arts or an education for a high paying job? That’s a false choice.”

Granted, it still seems Congress is far from addressing the main driver of college cost inflation – federal subsidies in the form of loans for anyone who wants them. Said Wyden, “Federal education policy is at a fork in the road. Historically it is about access. I want to keep that focus – support Pell grants, Stafford Loans, and all of the assistance that ensures access.” Nonetheless, a respected Democratic policy thinker is supporting a bill that is conservative in its temperament. By supplying greater amounts of data to consumers, the Wyden-Rubio bill is the right move in reforming an industry badly in need of more transparency and accountability.

Why Are There Still Preferences for Women?

Using federal statistics, Laura Norén has prepared a series of graphics showing gender distribution among recent recipients of undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D./professional degrees. The charts are visually striking, especially since all three sets of charts show movement in an identical direction. According to Norén, by 2020, women are projected to earn 61 percent of all M.A. degrees and 58 percent of all B.A. degrees—figures far above the percentage of women in the total population. There’s no indication that this trend will reverse anytime soon.

The Norén chart reminded me of figures revealed in CUNY’s recent faculty “diversity” report. As I previously noted at Minding the Campus, the demographic breakdown of CUNY’s faculty (and there’s no reason to believe that CUNY’s figures differ from those at most major public institutions) has shown a similar progression.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women increased from 42 to 47 percent of the all CUNY faculty. (The total had risen five percent in the previous decade, as well.) Because of the nature of tenure—only a small percentage of faculty positions come open every year—a five percent overall gain in a decade suggests disproportionate figures in hiring. And, indeed, that was the case—while the CUNY diversity report only broke down gender-hiring patterns for a couple of years in the decade, in 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, 55.5 percent of the new hires were women. If current patterns hold, women will be the majority of CUNY faculty in 2020 and be nearing the 60 percent mark by 2030.

There’s nothing necessarily troubling with these patterns in and of themselves. Undoubtedly the growing numbers of female students—and female faculty members—in part reflect the broader opening of higher education toward women that has occurred since the 1960s. And in a nation where women form 50.8 percent of the population, a fair-minded campus admissions and hiring process could easily yield majority-female enrollment or hires.

Yet these statistics do raise profound, and troubling questions about the nature of campus race/ethnicity/gender “diversity” programs. If women are the substantial majority of students at all levels, and increasingly emerge as the majority of faculty members, what possible rationale could exist for programs, of any type, that grant gender-based preferences to women? Regarding the student population, at least, and the faculty population in the near future, women are no longer an underrepresented minority. To my knowledge, however, no university anywhere in the country has modified either its admissions or its personnel policies to take into account statistics such as those graphed by Norén.

Take, for instance, the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. The policies include such banalities as a requirement that “university publications relating to employment . . . include articles covering the University’s affirmative action programs, including progress reports and employment data on minorities and women. Pictures will include minorities and women.”

But other requirements are more direct. “Special attention will be given,” according the guidelines,“to extending and strengthening efforts to increase the number of women” in faculty positions. “Recruitment practices will focus on creating a feeling[emphasis added] conducive to attracting minorities and women.” And faculty search committees “will utilize methods which are most likely to result in the inclusion of qualified minorities and women in the applicant pool.” Such requirements might once have been needed. But in an academy in which women are moving toward majority status?

Despite all of these policies, moreover, the university preposterously maintains that “Applicants for employment are considered and placed without regard to . . . sex.” And with federal courts clearly in mind, the guidelines add that goals and timetables for hiring more women at Michigan “are not to be construed or used as a quota system.”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about Michigan’s policies, just as there was nothing unusual about CUNY’s faculty hiring data; such patterns are common throughout higher education. And there’s no reason to believe that any statistics will lead to these policies being repealed.

Norén’s chart unintentionally highlights a point made in several of the Fisher briefs: that it’s entirely possible that even outright quotas might lead to a fairer higher education system than our ever-shifting “goals and timetables,” which can easily be shielded from transparency.

How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

lipsman tenure.jpg

Professors with tenure have lifetime appointments that can only be revoked after some egregious transgression, summarized by such formal labels as moral turpitude, gross negligence or dereliction of duty. In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.

Why would a university agree to make an appointment that so severely restricts its ability to terminate an underperforming or incompetent employee?  We all know the historic reason: faculty need to be free to pursue controversial theories, novel ideas and unexplored terrain. Then why is the tenure system under attack? Here are some reasons:

Continue reading How to Save Tenure–Cut It Way Back

Finally, Some Disclosure by the ABA

on the undergrad and graduate levels–typically admit students and encourage
them to take on onerous amounts of debt, without first giving those prospective
students the actual data about their chances of finding work in that major
field afterwards. This is just as true, by the way, for non-profit as it is for
for-profit schools.

is this unethical lack of transparency more a problem than with law schools. Each
year, about 40,000 new law school graduates start looking for work. But while it
is rare that a graduate of a medical school cannot find work in the medical
field, it is not at all rare for a law school graduate–even from a top-tier
institution–to fail to find a job in the legal profession.

has caused a large number of disgruntled law school grads to pressure the
American Bar Association (ABA) to release the data it has regarding the
employment of law school grads. Indeed, about a dozen grads have even sued the
schools from which they graduated. (Law school graduates suing their law
schools: this gives new meaning to the hoary clich

Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Elizabeth Warren.jpgSeemingly lily-white Elizabeth Warren’s supposed claim of Cherokee heritage may make for good campaign fodder–incumbent Senator Scott Brown has gone so far as to demand that Warren apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a minority–but the real lesson in this latest of partisan battles has more to do with university rather than electoral politics.

For those who have been living in a bubble, let’s rehash: On April 27th, the Boston Herald reported that Elizabeth Warren “was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials…as proof of their faculty’s diversity” in 1996; indeed, according to the Herald, Warren was considered the only minority woman on the Law School faculty at the time (a statistic of great interest, it seems, to those who count such things). Following the report, the Warren campaign has been on the defensive as opponent Brown, along with many members of the media, have been questioning (or simply making fun of) Warren’s seemingly cynical careerist use of her Native American heritage. Over the next few weeks, we will doubtless continue to hear details about Warren’s family, and about whether or not she used her lineage in a suspect way.

Continue reading Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

“Here are some [college] degrees that cost you roughly $30,000 in tuition, their much cheaper replacements, and the savings you’d realize:

                  Degree                                  Replacement                                        Savings

                  Foreign Languages                 Language
Software                               $29,721

                  Philosophy                             Read
Socrates                                    $29,980

                  Women’s Studies                   Watch
Daytime TV                               $30,000

                  Journalism                             Start
a blog                                          $30,000

…Since none of these degrees help increase your employability, you might as well avoid these majors and do it on your own.”

The above is an excerpt from one of the funnier paragraphs
in “Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the
Right Major” (Paric Publications), Aaron Clarey’s hilarious primer
for college students who would like to work as something other than nannies and
theater interns after graduation.

Continue reading A Funny Book about Worthless Degrees

Is Investing in Community Colleges a Good Idea?


President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget contains an $8 billion program called the “Community College to Career Fund.” It would encourage community colleges, in partnerships with employers, to train about two million workers for future jobs. Since there are about 1,045 community colleges in America, the program would amount to a grant–over three years–of a little under $8 million per institution. Not all the funds, however, would go directly to the colleges themselves; some would go to state and local governments to recruit participating companies, some to underwrite an online entrepreneurship training program, and some to underwrite paid internships for low-income community-college students.

Using federal grants, the colleges would set up “community career centers where people learn crucial skills that local businesses are looking for right now, ensuring that employers have the skilled workforce they need and workers are gaining industry-recognized credentials to build strong careers,” according to a White House statement. The career centers would specifically train students for employment in health care, high technology, and “green” industries–areas expected, at least in the predictions of the Obama administration, to grow substantially over the next few years.

The federal money undoubtedly looks good to administrators at community colleges, which currently enroll some 6 million students, more than half of all Americans attending undergraduate institutions of higher learning. Nearly all community colleges, which typically award two-year associate degrees and shorter-term vocational certificates, report burgeoning enrollments during the current period of recession and shrinking funding from the strapped localities and states. There is a problem, however: community colleges have an admirable goal of providing second-chance education to young people who either performed too poorly in high school to get admitted to a conventional four-year college or can’t afford four-year-school tuition. But they have a poor track record in keeping those students around until graduation with any sort of degree or certificate.

The retention figures are not encouraging. According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 12 percent of community-college students earn an associate degree within the standard two years. That figure rises to 22 percent if students stay on for a third year and 28 percent if they stretch out their educations for four years, or twice the norm. Four-year colleges, by contrast, graduate about 53 percent of their students within six years. Students’ poor preparation for college-level work is clearly the reason for the dismal graduation rates of community colleges. About two-thirds of their entering students must first pass remedial math and English courses before they can qualify to take a single course for college credit–and most never succeed in passing those elementary classes. You can blame urban America’s failed K-12 system, or you can conclude that substantial numbers of young Americans lack the cognitive ability to succeed in college, but the fact remains that community colleges, with their bulging populations of directionless and under-performing students, may not be the best settings in which to produce a skilled workforce.

Exacerbating the problem is that most of the anticipated job openings in the U.S. during the near future will require workers who possess exactly the sort of math and reading-comprehension skills that most community-college students these days seem unable to master. There is currently a shortage of skilled employees in high-tech industries, and some two million manufacturing jobs are expected to open up by 2018 thanks to expected retirements–but most of those jobs require workers who can operate sophisticated machinery, follow complex instructions, and demonstrate some facility at math and statistics. The training itself for 21st-century jobs can be expensive. Mark Schneider, a former commissioner of education statistics who currently serves a vice president of the American Institutes for Research and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Associated Press that little is known about the effectiveness of most community college programs.

“We need measures of how well they are training their students, how well their students are being placed in the job market, and…are they making money?” Schneider told the AP. “We need to track them really, really carefully. And we need to make all that information available to students before they sign on…and before taxpayers subsidize all of this.”

A few months ago I surveyed some successful vocational-training programs at community colleges. In contrast to the Obama administration’s ambitious vision of using federal dollars to turn out large numbers of skilled workers in short order, these programs tended to be small-scale, dependent on modest grants from the involved industries themselves, and centered around nationally recognized certificates issued by private entities that attested to the recipients’ specific job skills and underlying cognitive attainments. Key to many of the programs was ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which measures recipients’ math and reading abilities. One of the programs was at Shoreline Community College near Seattle. Shoreline used a grant from the Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Institute of Manufacturers, to integrate the NCRC and certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills into a three-quarter-long manufacturing program. The program’s retention rate (95 percent) and job-placement rate (100 percent) were stellar–but it was also a small, highly focused program with only 50 students per cohort. The obvious question is: can that sort of success be replicated on a large scale with widely varying students, faculty, and educational standards–along with the potential for waste that a spigot of federal dollars always presents?

Of course it is also possible that the $8 billion that the Obama administration envisions for transforming community colleges into massive job-training centers may never materialize. In 2009 Obama’s budget promised some $12 million in federal funding to community colleges that aimed mostly at building and repairing new infrastructure. A Democratic Congress pared that amount down to $2 billion. With deficit-conscious Republicans in control of at least one chamber this time around, Obama’s promised $8 billion could be trimmed even more drastically.

The Outrage of the Adjuncts

higher-ed-hand.jpgEver heard of the New Faculty Majority? That’s a euphemism of sorts, but an accurate one, for adjuncts and other non-tenure-track teachers who now account for 70 percent of all college instructors. The group is three years old and met for a premiere “summit” in Washington, DC. on January 28th in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

From the tenor of most of the summit’s presentations, the group seems to have decided that the villain behind their failure to obtain respectable academic jobs is capitalism. Neo-Marxist phrases filled the air: “wage theft,” “neoliberal agenda,” “corporate America,” “under assault from the right,” “privatization of the production of knowledge,” and “marketization of the university.” I thought: if I had a dollar for each such phrase, I could endow a tenured chair for myself in the Ivy League, plus another chair with a dollar for every Dickensian plaint about minimum-wage-paid non-tenured instructors going on welfare, living out of their vans, limping to their classes with holes in their shoes, and committing suicide.

Still, this self-described academic proletariat had a point–although it was a point that took me a while to ford my way through the “Grapes of Wrath” logorrhea to see. (It helped that the NFM’s sole Republican board member, Matthew Williams, was able to advocate for the non-tenured without invoking Karl Marx, the Occupy movement, or anti-globalization guru Naomi Klein.)

Dreaming of a Professor, but Getting an Adjunct

The point–and it is a powerful one–was this: Undergraduate students, their parents, and the taxpayers who subsidize public education spend large sums of money on what they imagine to be a high-quality academic experience for young people. They imagine the distinguished tenured professors whose achievements grace the university’s website forming intimate and memorable mentoring relationships with their undergraduate students via small classes and one-on-one discussions. Instead, what those students often get, at least for the first two years and sometimes for all four, are behemoth classes taught, sometimes indifferently, by poorly paid, minimally supervised, time-harassed, and even burned-out “contingent” faculty whose connections with university life are so tenuous that students complain they never see their teachers outside of the classroom.

At community colleges, for example, only 19 percent of faculty are on the tenure track; the rest are drop-ins. One of the most crucial college courses, freshman composition, designed to prepare students to hone research skills and present cogent scholarly arguments, is on nearly every campus the sole domain of non-tenured part-timers making a couple thousand dollars a class–if they’re lucky. Tenured professors typically eschew freshman comp, stay away from large lecture courses unless they can buffer themselves with armies of graduate assistants, and in general try to teach as little as they can get away with, preferably in small graduate seminars. Universities prefer to spend their money on campus amenities and armies of administrators rather than on faculty salaries, particularly at the lower level. So students can essentially be cheated out of critical years of education that they, their parents, or state taxpayers are paying large sums for.

“No one is monitoring what’s happening in the classrooms,” said Williams, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration and who taught communications part time for three years at the University of Akron. “I was never evaluated. My syllabus was never read by anyone except my students.”

As the NFM presenters were eager to point out, the vast majority of non-tenured instructors, despite the doctoral degrees that most of them hold, are part-time “adjuncts” working for as little as $1,400 per three-credit-hour course taught (do the math and you’ll see that even if they manage to cram five classes per semester into their schedules–an unusually high teaching load for an adjunct–$14,000 a year doesn’t buy a lot of groceries). On top of their wretched pay, adjuncts lack the most rudimentary job security, because most are hired on an as-needed basis a few days before the semester begins. And on top of that, because college administrators want to keep adjunct faculty at arm’s length as part-timers–and thus get out of paying for their health insurance and other full-time employee benefits–few institutions permit adjuncts to teach more than two classes per semester. In order to earn something resembling a living wage, many adjuncts cobble together two or three teaching gigs on multiple campuses and spend much of their working day driving from part-time job to part-time job in the kind of car that you can afford when your income is $14,000 a year. Few campuses provide offices for adjunct faculty–or even parking spaces, computer access, or cubbies for storing their books. Adjuncts almost never get invited to departmental social events. Indeed, it’s common for the tenure-track professors in a given department not even to know the adjuncts’ names. As Betsy Smith, who teaches English as a second language part time at Cape Cod Community College, put it: “It’s matter of respect. They never refer to me as ‘my colleague.'”

Still, as I sat through the NFM summit in an audience of about a hundred of the angry untenured, I couldn’t help thinking: Isn’t all this misery self-inflicted? No one is holding a gun to the heads of these underemployed folks with their hyper-developed brains, strings of advanced degrees, and 20-year-old automobiles. Colleges pay adjuncts $1,400 a class (on the wealthier campuses the rate is more like $3,500 or $4,000 a class, still way under the average $55,000 annual starting salary for a brand-new assistant professor on the tenure track teaching three classes a semester)…because they can. In today’s academic market, at least in the humanities, there are at least two, and sometimes four holders of brand-new doctorates for every tenure-track opening. So there seems to be no end to the line of the over-educated who are willing to endure any indignity in order to keep a toehold in college teaching, even of the most marginal kind. “I put 10 years of my life into getting my Ph.D., and I don’t want to give it up” was a response I heard more than once when I asked several adjuncts at the summit why they didn’t just stop adjuncting and do something that would afford them a decent lifestyle.

Many of the summit panels consisted essentially of consciousness-raising, 1960s style. Clare Goldstene, a lecturer in the history department at American University, complained that lack of tenure made leftist faculty timid about expressing their views. “It dims the potent voice of progressive exchange,” she said. Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, a Washington-based advocacy group for “communities of color,” declared that there was a right-wing “effort afoot to roll back the 20th century: the New Deal, civil rights, voting rights, welcoming to immigrants.” He urged non-tenured instructors to form coalitions with day laborers, domestic workers, “demonized” public-school teachers’ unions, and a bunch of foreign students who entered the U.S. last summer on work-study visas and found themselves shuttled off by a labor contractor into night-shift work packing chocolate for a Hershey business partner. “Those were slave-like conditions, not unlike the conditions you work under,” Bhargava told the adjuncts.

Perhaps the most incendiary of all was Joe Berry, author of “Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to Change Higher Education” and also the American Association of University Professors representative at Rutgers (the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association are all competing among the non-tenured for union members). “This is a rich country, there’s plenty of money,” Berry declared. “It’s just in the wrong pockets.” In order to pay adjuncts better, Berry suggested a variety of redistributive measures at the federal level: a more progressive tax structure, cutbacks on military spending, and curtailing America’s “barbarous rate of incarceration.” Debra Leigh Scott, an adjunct professor in English at Temple University and the Community College of Philadelphia, narrated lugubrious tales of adjuncts she knew who signed up for food stamps, sold their eggs, reused their teabags because they had to buy cat food that week, and attended faculty dinners at restaurants where they couldn’t afford the wine. One adjunct shot his wife, set fire to their house, and then shot himself because the two had lost their jobs, their house was in foreclosure, and his wife had cancer. (Scott’s blog, The Homeless Adjunct, contains many more such woeful stories.) “My daughter is a corporate attorney because she doesn’t want to live on the edge of poverty the way I do,” Scott said.

‘They Don’t Care about Their Students’

Scott’s daughter struck me as having the right idea. So did Stanley Katz, director of Princeton’s Center for Arts and Cultural policy Studies. Katz, who received his doctorate from Princeton in 1961 and has spent his entire career teaching at elite universities, including Princeton, warned the assembled non-tenured that it was “naïve” for them to think, for example, that they could ever be accepted as equals by the research-focused–and status-obsessed–tenured professors who teach at their institutions. (One of the AAUP’s goals is for adjuncts to have access to the tenure track based upon their teaching records.) “Most of my colleagues care only about research. Why should they care about you? They don’t care about their own students.”

Another reality check came from Valerie Hardcastle, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Cincinnati, a drop-in from the university administrators’ meeting. “There’s an 850-pound gorilla in this room that’s never been discussed and never mentioned: the overproduction of Ph.D.’s. I say: You’re a smart person with a Ph.D.–why are you doing this to yourself? I don’t hire adjunct faculty in math because they won’t work under those conditions. And I don’t hire adjunct faculty in Spanish because they won’t work under those conditions. But we have a plethora of English Ph.D.’s–and every year the English department comes to me and wants to expand the Ph.D. program.

Yes, it might have been provocative for the NFM summit to have focused, not on the immiseration of adjunct faculty, but on other factors: the faculty vanity, the desire to teach small classes of eager graduate students rather than large classes of disengaged undergrads, and the greed for cheap labor that has led English and departments to persist in operating doctoral programs whose chief yield is the impoverished and radicalized lifelong adjuncts. And while my advice to would-be adjunct professors is still “Just say no,” I emerged with a better understanding of why their perhaps futile quest for better working conditions has some merit: By systematically underpaying and mistreating the non-tenured faculty who bear the burden of basic education, colleges are systematically cheating their own students. As Maria Maisto, president of the NFM, told me in an interview after the conference, “It’s not just a market issue. The same entities control the supply and the demand.”

The Perils of Law Schools and Their Rankings

law school professor.jpg

It may be inevitable: “gainful employment” rules for law schools. “Gainful employment” is a term of art coined in the wake of the U.S. Education Department’s regulations last June governing for-profit colleges and similar vocational institutions from which many students emerge with student-loan debt and few prospects for working at jobs they were trained for. It now turns out that America’s law schools have a few things in common with the proprietary sector: Both feature sky-high tuition relative to students’ ability to pay without taking on substantial debt, and many former students of both kinds of institutions have trouble earning enough money to pay back the loans made or guaranteed by the federal government that taxpayers must eventually cover.

The Education Department now plans to limit or deny federal grants and loans to students at for-profit schools that cannot demonstrate that relatively large percentages of their former students are paying off their student debt in timely fashion and in amounts that don’t exceed certain set percentages of their income. That’s what “gainful employment” means. This past fall two U.S. U.S. senators, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), sent a letter to Kathleen Tighe, the Education Department’s inspector general, that appeared to be a first step in subjecting law schools to similar controls. The senators asked the department to provide “transparency” information (presumably to be obtained from the law schools themselves) regarding tuition costs, bar passage rates, job placement rates (including a breakdown as to whether the jobs are full-time or part-time and whether they require a law degree), and the amount of federal and private education-loan debt students carry on graduation. The next step could well be a shutoff of the federal-aid spigot to law schools–the same sanction that for-profit schools face–if substantial portions of graduates aren’t earning enough to pay back their law-school loans.

Federal regulation of law schools sounds fairly drastic–but so is the current crisis in legal education. Here are some hard facts: Law-school tuition has skyrocketed over the past two decades. During the 1980s the average annual tuition at a private law school was $13,500. Now it tops $40,000. Law-school debt has also risen quickly. Students at private law schools currently borrow an average of $92,000 to finance their three years of legal education, while students at public law schools borrow an average of $59,000. Those amounts dwarf the average $14,000 that students at career colleges borrow to pay for two-year associate degrees. Meanwhile, because of the recession and the growing practice of outsourcing routine legal work to temporary employees, many of them abroad, the number of full-time U.S. legal jobs has declined by 15,000, according to a Northwestern University survey. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. law schools–and law-school graduates–is burgeoning. The American Bar Association (ABA) accredits 200 law schools, and about 20 more brand-new schools are in the ABA’s accreditation pipeline. Altogether the law schools churn out about 45,000 graduates a year, all competing for only 30,000 new job openings annually. That’s 1.5 fledgling attorneys for every available job that actually requires them to use their degree.

Furthermore–and this is what has led to all the cries for “transparency”–law schools have been accused of fudging their post-graduate employment numbers so as to game the U.S. News & World Report rankings. While the ABA operates as law schools’ official accreditor, U.S. News, with its rankings of the schools and its division of them into four “tiers” presumably based on their relative quality, is their unofficial accreditor. Because law schools, along with the universities to which they are attached crave their students’ tuition dollars (law schools, where expensive labs are nonexistent and large lecture courses are the rule, tend to be cash cows for their host campuses), the schools scramble to hoist themselves onto U.S. News’s coveted first and second tiers. One way to do this is to boast a high percentage in this crucial category that counts for one-seventh of the U.S. News ranking: “graduates known to be employed within nine months after graduation.”

Fudging the Facts

The “known” in the phrase “known to be employed” is the operative word. Law schools send their recent graduates surveys using questions devised by the ABA and the National Association for Law Placement. The graduates then self-report their employment, if any, and the school calculates the percentage of those who responded who say they have jobs and submits it to U.S. News. Graduates who fail to respond to the survey or who can’t be located don’t count. Furthermore, any kind of job counts as “employment,” even a job that requires no legal training. In a Jan. 8 story for the New York Times, reporter David Segal wrote: “Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You’re working, too.”

Even top-rated law schools seem to engage in this sort of fudging. Segal reported that Georgetown University’s law school, safely in the top tier with a No. 14 ranking, last year sent an e-mail to its graduates who were “still seeking employment” offering them $20-and-hour temporary jobs in the admissions office for the six weeks encompassing Feb. 15, the cut-off date under U.S. News’s nine-month rule. (Georgetown maintained that it did not count those graduates as “employed” for purposes of the survey.) As might be easily predicted from these loosey-goosey controls on survey accuracy, even the lowest-tiered law schools report astonishingly high levels of employment for their graduates. In 1997, the first year that U.S. News adopted the nine-month test, the average employment rate 84 percent, Segal reported. Last year that number had jumped to 93 percent, with some schools reporting 99 percent and 100 percent employment.

Furthermore, many law schools report starting salaries for their graduates that seem unrealistically high, given the current dismal market. In a July 16, 2011 story for the New York Times Segal noted that New York Law School (NYLS), a third-tier institution in lower Manhattan with a U.S. News ranking of No. 134, told the magazine that the median annual salary nine months after its Class of 2009 graduated was $160,000–the same figure cited by Yale and Harvard, which ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for that year. Only the largest and most prestigious law firms pay three-figure salaries to brand-new lawyers, and they hire most of them from top-tier, not third-tier law schools. In an interview with Segal, then-NYLS Dean Richard Matasar stood by the figure but pointed out that on its website the school explicitly points out that most of its graduates find jobs at smaller firms that pay between $35,000 and $75,000 a year. Still, NYLS conceded that only 26 percent of the 300 of its graduates who reported being employed included information about their salaries. So even the $35,000-$75,000 that NYLS cites are less than reliable numbers. Meanwhile NYLS charges around $48,000 a year in tuition, more than Harvard.

Playing the Blame Game

Since it’s estimated that a law graduate needs to earn $65,000 at a bare minimum in order to pay down a student-loan debt in the $100,000 range, there’s quite a bit of anger among unemployed and under-employed young lawyers burdened with staggering loans that, like other federal student loans, can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Class-action lawsuits alleging fraud and misrepresentation have been filed by graduates of NYLS and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, based in Lansing, Michigan. Until recently Cooley was on the fourth and bottom tier of the U.S. News rankings, but it now has no ranking at all because of failure to submit sufficient information. (Cooley has at least the virtue of being relatively cheap for a private institution, with tuition for full-time students at around $30,000 a year.) The blog Above the Law reports that the lawyers who launched the NYLS and Cooley suits plan to sue fifteen more law schools that have reported post-graduate employment rates ranging from 88 percent to 100 percent–rates that the lawyers say amount to misrepresentation. Some of the schools are attached to well-respected universities such as Hofstra and Villanova. The average debt load for the 2009 graduates of those schools is $108,829. Another currently unranked but formerly fourth-tier law school, Thomas Jefferson in San Diego, became the subject of a class-action suit for fraud and false advertising filed by 2008 graduate Anna Alaburda last May. Thomas Jefferson reported for U.S. News’s 2011 evaluations that 92.1 percent of its graduates were employed nine months after obtaining their degrees.

If the former law students blame the law schools for allegedly misleading them into mortgaging their futures for nonexistent cushy jobs, the law schools blame U.S. News and the outsize importance that its readers–potential students and potential donors–place upon the rankings, which can mean millions of dollars in gained or lost revenue. Thomas Jefferson, for example, maintains that it has meticulously abided by U.S. News’s reporting guidelines, even though 25 percent of its graduates could not be located in typical surveys. In a July 18 demurrer–a legal document arguing that Alaburda failed to state a case–lawyers for Thomas Jefferson pointed out that U.S. News had also published the school’s honestly reported bar-passage rates, which during the years that Alaburda applied to and attended the school were less than 50 percent (they have substantially increased since then). Any college graduate could do the math and see that numerous Thomas Jefferson alums weren’t practicing law right after graduation during those years, the school’s lawyers argued. Alaburda “pleads that she relied exclusively or primarily on the data in a summary chart published in a popular magazine, misunderstood it, made no further inquiries, and then spent tens of thousands of dollars on her legal education,” they wrote.

U.S. News in turn blames the ABA. In an interview with Segal, Robert Morse, who oversees the magazine’s law school rankings, conceded that his editors could demand better data from the schools. “But we’d have to create a whole new definition of ’employed,’ and it would be awkward if U.S. News imposed that definition by itself. It would be preferable if the ABA took a leadership role in this.” The ABA, for its part, blames law-school applicants themselves, who have known or should have known that the U.S. legal market has been depressed ever since the recession began in 2007–but decided to try to beat the odds anyway and load themselves with debt during the process. ABA president William Robinson, in a Jan. 4 interview with the Chicago Tribune, said, “It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago….We’re not talking about kids making these decisions.”

Applicants and Accreditation

Robinson is certainly correct in one respect: There has been no shortage of applicants to law schools during the current recession–although the Law School Admissions Council did report a modest but significant drop-off in law-school applications during 2011. Only 78,900 people applied to ABA-accredited law schools this past year, in contrast to 87,900 in 2010. Perhaps some college students are finally getting the word that a legal career is not a sure thing. But the push is on for some private or public regulatory body to tamp down on the glut of graduates emerging every year from law schools with their sky-high debt and dismal employment prospects. The ABA has been urged to refuse to accredit any more law schools in the future–a step that the ABA, citing antitrust concerns, declines to take. That leaves the federal government. It’s clear that the transparency data sought by Boxer and Coburn could be only the prelude to some sort of regulatory regimen to be imposed by the Education Department, whether it’s cigarette pack-style warnings or gainful-employment rules that would deny federal student loans to schools with poor job-placement histories.

During the first week in January the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) held its annual meeting in Washington. The oversupply of jobless and debt-ridden fledgling lawyers was not on the AALS’s official agenda, but at a reception I attended for alumni of my own law school, the University of Southern California, the talk was of little else. I chatted with USC’s dean, Robert K. Rasmussen, about the problem. Rasmussen insisted that graduates of USC, a top-tier school (it’s No. 18 in the U.S. News rankings), have not been affected by the shrinking legal market. “Over 90 percent of our graduates get jobs within nine months after graduation–and they’re legal jobs,” he said. “Our graduates have a loan-default rate of close to zero. But it’s clear that some of those third- and fourth-tier schools are going to have to shut down.”

The question is: Who is going to do the shutting? And will law schools go the way of the for-profit colleges, under a level of federal scrutiny and suspicion that they have never known before?

Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that an ABA committee has recommended that law schools be required to report detailed information about their graduates’ salaries to applicants and the public as a condition of accreditation. The salary lists would include breakdowns for 15 different categories of employment (such as large law firms, public-interest firms, and so forth), and three different percentiles of salary figures. The new recommendations will go before the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in March.

What’s Wrong with the Law Schools

By Frank J. Macchiarola and Michael C.

Lady Justice.jpgAs law schools have come under fire
on many fronts, the growing cost of tuition has drawn the most attention.  This
is not surprising, given the shrinking job market for lawyers and tuition
increases that have far outpaced the general cost of living for more than two
decades.  Put directly, one of us, a pre-law advisor (Frank), tells
students that if they can’t afford the cost of a legal education, without
loans, they should think about other careers.  This is generally a painful
conversation, but we strongly believe it is an honest one, particularly given
the lower-middle-class economic status of most of our students.  Debt is
choking too many recent law graduates, bringing
anger and unhappiness into their lives.  Further, the monopolistic
structure surrounding access to the legal profession, largely a result of the ABA’s law school approval
process, denies many the chance to become lawyers.  Within the last week, another law school was denied
provisional accreditation, for reasons unspecified publicly, but probably due
to the failure to meet standards that would have required greater financial
investment (and hence higher tuition) in the enterprise.

Continue reading What’s Wrong with the Law Schools

Check Out This Alternative to College

students test results.jpgInstitutions from charter schools to the White House are pushing hard for more young people to go to college, but with almost half of students at four-year colleges destined to leave without a degree, a counter-trend is starting to take hold: a loose coalition of people in the credentialing, training, and grant-making businesses are working to build an alternative to college for young people who are not academically inclined. The new paradigm centers around the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) developed during the 1990s by ACT, the non-profit organization far better known for its SAT-style college-entrance exam. The NCRC and its assorted components and supplements, collectively known as WorkKeys, offer a path to employment success outside the conventional college track.

Scores on the WorkKeys assessments certify to prospective employers that job applicants have mastered enough specific, nationally recognized mental and interpersonal skills to qualify for the jobs they are seeking, no matter where they went to high school, what courses they took, or whether they had any college experience at all. In short, ACT’s NCRC strives to make bypassing college a viable, indeed an optimal choice for those who are either unlikely to succeed academically, or who are just turned off by the prospect of years of higher education. Alternatively, the test can help them get decent jobs while they pursue further specific training that could hoist them into even better ones.

Continue reading Check Out This Alternative to College

The Revenge of the Unemployed Graduates

arab-revolution.jpgHere’s the major question about the famous suicide by fire of the young Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi: why did it trigger so much upheaval in so many Arab lands?

Widespread poverty, political corruption, and ruthless oppression are an old story in Arab countries.  Why should this suicide have produced so many furious young adults risking their lives to defy security police and soldiers? There’s a plausible explanation that much of the media have missed: the frustrated expectations of young high school and university graduates.  A great many young graduates had struggled to earn degrees, occasionally in demanding curricula like engineering or information technology. Government and university officials had routinely made speeches assuring them that education would result in well-paid jobs in private companies or in the bloated bureaucracies of their governments.  Instead, many found themselves unemployed or forced to take menial jobs.  Universities had turned into unemployment factories.  To get the few good jobs, outstanding academic qualifications were of some help but not enough.  Graduates had to be lucky and also pay bribes or have family connections.

Continue reading The Revenge of the Unemployed Graduates

After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

One of the frequent complaints one hears from humanities professors and figures in the “softer” social sciences is that students and a growing number of higher education officials, consultants, and commentators regard college more and more as a job-training program.  While driving across the country this week, I heard Rush Limbaugh declare that the only point of going to college was to find a job—nothing about general knowledge and skills that go with citizenship and being an adult of taste and discernment and historical understanding.

The economic crisis makes their workforce-readiness arguments even stronger, and this story in The Fiscal Times adds an aggravating component to it.  It bears the headline “The Lost Grads: Born into the Wrong Job Market,” and it focuses on graduating classes of '08-'10 who left school only to find that employers weren’t hiring.  The result, according to the Economic Policy Institute: college grads under 25 have an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, while older grads have a rate of 4.4 percent.

Continue reading After Graduation, Get a Job Immediately, or Else

Less Academics, More Narcissism

Reprinted from City Journal. 

California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center. 

Continue reading Less Academics, More Narcissism

Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD


If you are a college student today enrolled in four classes during any given semester, it is likely that only one of your teachers is employed by your school in a permanent position that comes with a middle-class salary, job security, and benefits. The other three are contingent faculty, often called “adjuncts”; they have job titles like “instructor” or “lecturer” rather than “professor” but their roles in the classroom are the same. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), adjuncts at U.S. colleges and universities now comprise “more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff.”

But the vast majority of adjuncts–who typically either have Ph.D.s or are in the advanced stages of completing them–earn a fraction of what their tenure-track colleagues do. Their contracts are offered on a course-by-course, semester-by-semester basis and often come without benefits. Unlike most tenure-track faculty, few adjuncts even know until just a few weeks before the semester starts which classes they will teach, if any, and many take part-time jobs off campus–or at multiple institutions–to supplement low pay and forestall the crisis of a semester with too few classes to pay the rent.

Continue reading Adjuncts and the Devalued PhD

How the Feds Plan to Violate Student Privacy

Though civil liberties groups have been slow to react, there’s a disturbing aspect to the Education Department’s new “gainful employment” rules pertaining to for-profit colleges: Starting in 2015, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will start turning over its data on the earnings of individual students at career colleges to the Education Department. This is so it can assess whether the students’ ratio of federal student loan debt to income complies with other gainful employment regulations issued by the department. Under the new rules, one of the metrics for deciding whether students can use federal aid (grants and loans) to attend a post-secondary vocational program is whether the average debt-to-income ratio of the school’s graduates is no higher than 12 percent (or 30 percent of the graduate’s “discretionary income” as defined by federal rules).
The idea behind the debt-to-income rule is to assess whether the graduates of vocational programs–including programs offered by community colleges and other nonprofit institutions as well as career colleges–are actually getting the jobs for which their training at tax-subsidized expense is supposed to be preparing them. But the SSA-Education Department arrangement–the result of an unprecedented agreement between the two federal agencies–raises serious problems related to both the privacy of the students involved and the transparency of the process of determining whether a school has failed to meet the debt-to-income threshold.
Most troubling is the involvement of the Social Security Administration–and also, indirectly, the Internal Revenue Service, which supplies earnings information to the SSA based on tax returns. After all, the SSA is supposed to be in the business of calculating Social Security benefits, not monitoring compliance with laws that have nothing to do with Social Security. The IRS, in turn, is supposed to be in the business of collecting taxes, including Social Security taxes, not helping the Education Department decide whether the University of Phoenix is in compliance with new gainful employment rules. Both agencies, the IRS in particular, are bound by strict laws forbidding the sharing of data except as explicitly permitted by federal statute, such as the one that allows the SSA to use IRS-supplied tax-return information along with filings by employers to determine benefits. Taxpayers have historically relied on the nearly complete confidentiality of their tax-return information as an incentive to honesty in reporting. Controversial provisions in the 2010 “Obamacare” health law that turn the IRS into an enforcement agency for compliance with the law’s individual insurance mandate have raised serious and justifiable objections. Now, thanks to an SSA-Education Department partnership that has no clear statutory authorization, both the SSA and the IRS will be complicit in an arrangement that has nothing to do with either agency’s statutory mandate.

Continue reading How the Feds Plan to Violate Student Privacy

Gainful Employment: A Detriment to Competition


Today the Obama Administration unveiled its long-anticipated and highly controversial final gainful employment (GE) regulation  that ties program eligibility for federal student aid to new metrics that are based on student loan repayment rates. Under the new GE rule, a vocational program can qualify as leading to gainful employment and remain eligible for federal aid if one of three metrics is met:

1.     At least 35% of former students are repaying their loans;

2.     The estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30% of discretionary income;

3.     The estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 12% of total earnings.

The rule requires that a program fail to meet one of the three metric three times in a four year period before becoming ineligible for federal student aid, with 2015 being the first year that a program can lose eligibility. Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended the metrics as a “perfectly reasonable bar…that every for-profit program should be able to reach. We’re also giving poor performing for-profit programs every chance to improve. But if you get three strikes in four years, you’re out.”

Continue reading Gainful Employment: A Detriment to Competition

Why College Still Matters

A growing chorus of critics says a college education is finished as the ticket to economic success and a middle-class life.

The economy of the future, these critics suggest, actually requires far fewer college-educated citizens, because the U.S. economy is generating tens of thousands of jobs that require little or no higher education. 

In essence, the critics of American higher education policy are challenging the long-standing belief that all U.S. citizens should have a decent chance to pursue a college degree, regardless of what kind of neighborhood they grow up in, what kind of schools are available to them, or whether their parents have university degrees.

Continue reading Why College Still Matters

A Terrible Time for New Ph.D.s

presidential_drgowns.jpg“If I don’t succeed in academe, I’ll die!”

So read the anguished headline of a Jan. 23 cri de coeur to Salon magazine’s advice columnist, Cary Tennis. The writer was a woman who had apparently spent eight years acquiring a Ph.D. in anthropology, plus another seven years trying unsuccessfully to get an entry-level tenure-track professor’s job—a position whose average starting salary is less than $54,000 a year, which is decent but perhaps not worth putting in nearly a decade in graduate school. At age 37 (if you add fifteen years to her presumed age at college graduation), the woman chafed with frustration, fury, the grinding humiliation of being able to secure only low-paying part-time teaching work, and resentment of her professor-husband who had landed a tenure-track slot at a prestigious university—but she could not let go of the dream that had driven her to endure nearly a decade of grad-school poverty for no reward. She wrote in her letter:

“I scrape by teaching the occasional class for peanuts, and one other prof has taken enough pity on me to let me work in her lab so I can pretend to continue my research. On an intellectual level I understand that I’m not going to get that professor job that I’ve been envisioning for, oh, 15 years now. It ain’t going to happen—no matter what I do, there is going to be someone younger, better trained, and with more publications….The problem is that emotionally, I can’t drop it. It’s like having a painful sore in my mouth that I keep poking with my tongue—all day, every day. I’m angry, bitter and heartbroken. I resent my husband so much for having what I can’t get that I can barely stand to be in the same room with him, I’m so consumed with jealousy….Sometimes, stuck in this town I don’t much care for, with my once-promising career in shambles, I wonder if it’s even worth getting out of bed.”

This ground-down woman is scarcely unrepresentative, in a job market where fewer than one out of every two holders of doctoral degrees in the humanities these days receive job offers that put them onto the tenure track that is key to a successful (if seldom wealth-generating) and reasonably secure life of teaching and scholarship—and that’s in good year. Right now we’re in a bad year, when, according to the American Association of University Professors, the ratio of tenure-track openings to new doctorates is more like 1 to 4.

Both the Modern Language Association (the leading professional society for English professors), meeting right after Christmas, and the American Historical Society, meeting in early January, reported fallen-off attendance and a marked decrease in job interviews and hence job openings for the anxious grad students and new Ph.D.’s who typically flock to the two associations’ annual conventions (which double as job fairs), double or triple up in motel rooms, and peddle their fresh-from-the-printer curricula vitae. The MLA convention used to be low-hanging fruit for journalists, who could gin up easy laughs for their readers just by quoting the postmodernist mumbo-jumbo in the titles of the scholarly papers presented: “Back in Black: Theorizing the Sequel in Marlowe’s Tamburlaines” (that’s an actual paper title from the 2009 MLA meeting). This year’s MLA convention, after a 50 percent drop in the number of tenure-track job openings between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 academic years, was just plain grim, from all reports.

For months now, the spotlight of negative attention in the academic trade press has been trained on the for-profit “career colleges,” with their high dropout rates, sometimes questionable recruiting tactics, and poor reputation for “gainful employment” on the part of their graduates, who can find themselves with no jobs and mountains of debt from the student loans that account for nearly 90 percent of their alma maters’ revenues. Ph.D. programs, especially in the humanities, can be viewed as career colleges for the highly educated. As with career colleges, their stated purpose is vocational training: for that full-time faculty position in academia. And exactly the same unappealing features of many career colleges, with their low-income, poorly prepared student populations turn out also to be features of Ph.D. programs, even though the latters’ student populations tend to be upper-middle-class and if anything, over-prepared.

Continue reading A Terrible Time for New Ph.D.s

What Happens When College Is Oversold

waiters.bmpAs I wrote here last week, newly compiled data shows that a great many college graduates have been settling into jobs that do not require higher education. The data, prepared and released by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), show that a majority of the increased number of college grads since 1992—some 60 percent– are “underemployed” or “overqualified” for the jobs they hold. Thus we have one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees. Some 17 percent of the nation’s bellhops and porters are college graduates. A new CCAP study From Wall Street to Wal-Mart: Why College Graduates Are Not Getting Good Jobs, released today along with this essay, carries even worse news: the proportion of college-educated Americans in lower-skilled jobs has more than tripled since the 1960s, going from 11 percent in 1967 to 34 percent today.
Why are more and more college graduates not entering the class of professional, technical and managerial workers that has been considered the main avenue of employment? Anyone who has read Charles Murray’s great book Real Education (New York: Crown Forum, 2008) has good insights into why this problem has arisen. Truly, Murray argues, only a modest proportion of the population has the cognitive skills (not to mention work discipline, drive, maturity, integrity, etc.) to master truly higher education, an education that goes well beyond the secondary schooling experience in terms of rigor of presentation. Reading and comprehending 200- to 400-year-old literature is useful for advanced leadership -but difficult. Educated persons should read and understand Locke’s “On Human Understanding” or Shakespeare’s King Lear -they are insightful in many ways, but the typical person of average intelligence typically lacks both the motivation and ability to do so. Mastering complex forms of mathematics is hard -but necessary to function in some areas of science and engineering.
Following up on Murray, the move to get more college degrees creates a huge problem. The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do. Rather than studying advanced mathematics, physics or –as I did– 18th century French literature in the native language, more students are studying business administration, communication skills, and doing vocational-school type work on the intricacies of health care provision or administration. Instead of five or 10 percent of students getting “A” grades, we give 40 percent or more. We have created a Potemkin Village -a few truly good universities that come close to meeting the former academic standards, but a vaster melange of institutions that are often neither “higher” nor even “education” in the classical sense, particularly since the typical student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics. Bottom line: too many people go to college.

Continue reading What Happens When College Is Oversold

Do We Need More College Grads?

Richard Vedder calls it “the single most scandalous statistic in higher education,” an assessment that doesn’t sound overstated to us. Writing on the Chronicle of Higher Education site, Vedder says “a small army of researchers and associates” gathered by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) shows that “approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the (Bureau of Labor Statistics) considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less.” This means that the great push to increase the number of college grads has apparently come to very little—only a minority of the additional grads are in occupations regarded as requiring a bachelor’s degree.
Of the nearly 50 million U.S. colleges graduates, 17.4 million are holding jobs for which college training is regarded as unnecessary. The number of waiters and waitresses with college degrees more than doubled from in the years 1992-2008, from 119,000 to 338,000, and cashiers with college degrees rose from 132,000 to 365,000. This makes the push for more college graduates very controversial. Vedder writes: “Some in higher education KNOW about all of this and are keeping quiet about it because of their own self-interest. We are deceiving our young population to mindlessly pursue college degrees when very often that is advice that is increasingly questionable.”
Four of our writers have weighed in on the CCAP report, Stefan Kanfer, Fred Siegel, Mark Bauerlein and Daphne Patai.

* * * * * * * * * *

Four Years of College to Become a Bellhop
Posted by Stephan Kanfer
Like the dollars that pay for them, degrees from U.S. colleges and universities are rapidly declining in value. The College Board, a consortium of 5,700 institutions of advanced education, would have us believe that “the pay premium for those with bachelor’s degrees has grown substantially in recent years.” But in the real world, where at least some of those board members live, a B.A. is hardly a guarantee of salary or success. The report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity reveals that some 60 percent of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that didn’t require the skills that sheepskins are supposed to guarantee—and that didn’t offer much in the way of big-league compensation, either.
Examples: Nearly 30% of flight attendants had BA’s. Some 24% of retail salespersons had similar degrees. So did more than 17% of baggage porters and bellhops. Taxi drivers: 15%; hotel, motel and resort desk clerks, 16%; manicurists and pedicurists, 11.5%. The list goes on to include locksmiths, shampooers and telecommunications installers.
Some of this situation can be ascribed to the perilous economy—college graduates have to take what they can get, even if it’s washing someone else’s hair or cutting someone else’s toenails. But the principal reason for the lack of high-grade employment lies with the colleges themselves. Anyone who inspects their catalogues will find a glut of courses designed to separate the student from his cash, without imparting anything that might be defined as wisdom. Core curricula that once discussed the great tradition in literature, art, and science, have been elbowed offstage by banal courses in feminism, black studies and queer theory. All too often, the powerful and useful contributions of Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, Mann, Joyce et al are dismissed as the work of “dead white males.”
The result: students who can spout a line of political correctness designed to dazzle their peers and professors. With that and $1.50 they can get a bus ride downtown to the unemployment offices. And when and if they do land a job, chances are that their abilities will be sorely tested because they come to work with an ignorance of history, economics and society.
The future is not hard to predict. If current conditions prevail, the deflation of a bachelor’s degree will soon be accompanied by a corresponding inflation in the value of advanced degrees. A B.A. will be considered the equivalent of a high school diploma, and candidates for fast-track jobs in business or the professions will have to enter the work force with at least a master’s degree. Colleges will grow richer and students poorer. And if matters go far enough, one day municipal workers will have Ph. D’s to qualify for a position in the sanitation department.

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The Downgraded Status of Our Colleges
Posted by Fred Siegel
Insipidly correct, painfully self-conscious guardians of their own status, “higher” “education”, as Richard Vedder’s piece makes clear is, to a considerable degree, just another bureaucratic interest group looking to keep its bubble – built on the assumption of an unlimited market and endlessly rising value – going. Like New York’s public sector workers who are guaranteed a Madoff-like eight percent return on their pensions come boom or bust, the typical institution start its annual budgeting with the assumption of a 7% tuition increase and goes on from there regardless of whether or not the people it credentials are actually educated.
In the wake of its transformation by the cataclysms of the late 1960s, the so-called humanities moved from reflecting on the great works of the western tradition to an academic parody of the class struggle. The upshot has been that the intellectual value of the credentials colleges bestow has moved inversely with the rise of tuition. What Mr Vedder has uncovered statistically is known, albeit inchoately, by much of the public, which having already implicitly downgraded the status of our colleges is coming to recognize that a college degree may not even carry earning power.
Academia has a ready response to all this. It will argue in its learned journals that the rise of cheaper means of credentialing such as on-line courses was all a part of the right-wing conspiracy, inspired, no doubt, by Sarah Palin.

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The Everyone-Should-Go-to-College Dogma
Posted by Mark Bauerlein
I have a friend who is unemployed and has been for the last few years. She left a clerical position at a magazine and has since scrounged around doing some Web consulting work here and there, picking up a temp job off and on, but never finding anything durable. I pushed and prodded her recently to check out a few for-profit online schools in the area that have short vocational programs of some kind along with a financial aid package (she has credit card bills). We went to Web sites, dug into various programs, and she promised she’d pursue it.
I had a note from her with an answer a few days later. She’d spoken to others who told her to drop the vocational approach and instead to investigate programs in the second largest university in the state. An online degree wouldn’t earn her sufficient “respect,” they told her, and she listened. It would cost more money and take longer and force more courses upon her, but that only made it appear to her a better long-term decision.
I shot back: “You need a job, not respect, and the employers who will hire you don’t care about the school you attended. They just want to know that you can do the job.”
No word since. The idea of the standard four-year diploma is too settled and firm. In this case, and, I suspect, thousands of others, a streamlined, job-oriented program can’t break the spell–and it’s frustrating. Perhaps more studies like this one will dislodge it, and all will benefit. The cover of this week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has this front page headline: “Graduation Rates Fall at One-Third of 4-Year Colleges.” Obviously, we have many, many young people who don’t fit the four-year mold for one reason or another, and when they arrive on campus they soon feel the mismatch and leave. They might have been spared the experience if the “everyone-should-go-to-college-right-out-of-high-school” dogma weren’t so universally broadcast.

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Why Are Students Doing So Badly?
Posted by Daphne Patai
Over several decades, I have observed students arrive at the large, public university at which I teach with ever deteriorating preparation. And then, four (increasingly, five) years and many thousands of dollars later, those who stick with it graduate, often with little to show for it except a diploma.
If we really believe that job preparation is the goal of higher education why not install a system rather like Huxley’s in Brave New World, in which children are born and bred to fulfill particular slots in society? Remember how Huxley’s castes are indoctrinated day and night into the belief that they are the best and most fortunate group in their society? We’re already moving part way there, with our absurd emphasis on “self-esteem” totally unrelated to actual efforts and accomplishments. If we do not want Huxley’s perfectly functioning society, surely it behooves us to note that higher education is not merely, or even primarily, a job-preparation issue.
So, in my view, the scandal isn’t that students don’t find lucrative jobs after college. No; the real scandal is that we’re doing so badly what we are supposed to be doing halfway decently: providing our students with preparation to lead lives as thoughtful and free citizens of a democracy. But this failure shouldn’t be laid at the feet merely of university professors. The majority of students reach us already poorly educated but well trained in making the least effort. To that, we then add further disincentives: higher grades for less work; fewer requirements, and more credits per course; shorter semesters, reading lists, and students’ attention spans.
If we actually demanded that students put in the time, effort, and work required to become proficient in an area, and were giving students the grades they deserved, at least we could be claiming to be fulfilling one of the implicit promises of higher education. But if we did those things, college admissions and enrollments would drastically drop, as young people not interested in or able to make the serious intellectual effort that ought to be the hallmark of higher education, would seek out other ways of achieving their job goals. Meanwhile, the notion that everybody has a right to higher education would be exploded for what it is: an unrealistic and probably pointless pretense. However, I doubt that my fellow faculty members support the endless expansion of higher education out of a desire to line their own coffers. Many seem genuinely to believe that this is akin to the right to primary and secondary school education — and so it’s no surprise that those levels are what higher education has come to resemble. In such a situation, graduates ought to be disgruntled: they end up without either adequate job skills or the education-for-life that in some way they were promised, which certainly does turn their diplomas into a mere piece of paper, a formal requirement easy to despise.
Of course young people should have options for job training suitable to different interests and abilities, and these may or may not involve university attendance. But reinterpreting a liberal arts education as a job-training program is quite a drastic step, not to taken lightly. Meanwhile, those of us who teach at the university level should find it increasingly difficult to live with our abject failures. And those, emphatically, do not include our inability to solve the nation’s economic or employment problems by rewriting our curricula. The lack of connection between attending college and becoming educated is what we should really be upset about. Can’t we at least get that right?

What Is Texas A&M up to?

image001.gifSomewhere in America the president of a public university is getting hammered by the chairman of the board of regents. The hammerer—let’s say he owns a chain of automobile dealerships – is arguing that the president must get faculty costs under control – or else.

“Admit it, John,” the chairman says to the president. “Your faculty are a bunch of lazy, overpaid whiners. You’ve got six months to figure out a pay-for-performance plan, or start looking for another job.”

A former physicist who understands well the hornets nest he’s about to fall into, our beleaguered university president is left with little choice but to come up with a quick and dirty plan.

“Give me a spreadsheet,” he orders his senior vice president for budget and planning. “I want every faculty member in this system to have a dollar value attached to his or her name, reflecting their net contribution to our bottom line. Then I want a faculty salary schedule to reflect that.”

The president got his spreadsheet. A former physics colleague who was awarded a Nobel Prize some twenty years ago saw his salary slashed in half. Though he’d become a star teacher since his Nobel, his research grants had been dwindling for years. By contrast, there was the recent hire in the Construction Management program. She was a new Ph.D. who was already bringing in tons of industry money for “research.” In contrast to the Nobel Laureate, her salary would shoot up 35 percent. Our university president could think only about what Albert Einstein once said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

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A New Law Student Protest: ‘Where’s My Job?’

An interesting article in USA Today could signify the arrival of a new type of campus-related protest in America. In it, Mary Beth Marklein reported that a new generation of law students and graduates is rising in protest over the failure of law schools to give them honest accountings of the job market and their professional prospects. She wrote: “Law schools, once viewed as a guaranteed path to a high-paying career, are coming under fire as disillusioned graduates find a tighter job market than they say they were led to expect… A small but growing coalition of graduates, on blogs with names like ‘Scammed Hard’ and ‘Shilling Me Softly,’ blame their alma maters for luring them into expensive programs by overstating their employment prospects.”
Two Vanderbilt law students have founded a new organization, “Law School Transparency,” which has asked 200 law schools to submit data about salaries and employment for recent graduates, which they plan to make available on line. According to Marklein, one recent grad has even gone on a hunger strike to protest his predicament and the situation.
Though most grads end up employed (88% of the class of 2009), many languish in part-time or temporary positions, and pay is often shockingly disappointing. And, of course, there is the problem of debt, the new version of American Apple Pie. The average debt for a public law school grad is about $60,000 and slightly over $90,000 for private school counterparts. One Georgetown grad quoted in the article is drowning in debt amounting to $175,000. “If you count on law schools to do the right thing, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” he told Marklein.

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