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Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Academic Facepalm (evaluation edition)

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Back in December, I was searching for the #tenure hashtag on twitter.   There was some discussion (probably stated by Jesse Stommel 😜) which prompted me to search for this #hashtag out of curiosity to see what was tagged.  Along with heartwarming stories of people who've just earned tenure (a nice perk right before the winter break!), there was this wonderful tweet specimen...



I'm not gonna lie.  IT BUGS ME.

It bugs me as a learner.  I've always completed course evaluations and I tried to give honest feedback to the professor.  If the course was easy, hard, just right, I wanted them to know.  If I was appreciative, I wanted them to know.  Yes, sometimes I've half-assed it and just completed the Likert scale with a "loved the course" comment at the end, but many times I try to be more concrete about the feedback.

It bugs me as a program manager. I am the individual who sets up, collects, and often reminds students, about the course evaluations.  My colleague is in charge of making sure things like these get into personnel files and maintains department records, and also seems to manager tenure and promotion paperwork for our department (among her other duties).  Faculty committees spend time discussing this each year for merit increases.  So. much. wasted. effort! 

It bugs me as an adjunct.  Yes, I teach for the fun of it. I like helping new instructional designers find their footing.  As an adjunct, if my course evaluations are bad I could be no hired again just for that.  There are no protections.  And, then you've got this tenured individual who openly flaunts their privilege.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I know that Level 1 evaluations are flawed.  They don't measure learning, they measure reactions to the learning event.  But they are feedback nevertheless.   If you don't give a bleep about what students say about your course, one day, despite your tenure, you might not have any students left...

As an aside, I feel like tenure is an outdated institution.  I'd advocate for strong unions over tenure any day of the week.

Your thoughts?
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This is not the academy you are looking for...

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Have PhD...(source)
George Station had posted this article titled "The academy I dreamed of for 20 years no longer exists, and I am waking up" with the lead in of: Ellen Kirkpatrick has yearned for an academic career for many years. But 18 months after finally earning her doctorate, she is no longer sure she wants to remain in a sector defined by precarity, exploitation – and ‘quit lit’ 

George asked us (tried to bait us? 😏) to see what we think about it in his Fb posting, and I am surprised (given the circle of people George and I follow) that no one else jumped into the discussion.  I though I'd give it the old college try and write a blog post about it.  It is something that's been on my mind in the past couple of years. Once the coursework component of my EdD was done people started asking me what I plan to do after I earn my EdD.  I am still at the proposal stage (one of these days I'll write about it), but inching forward, so I guess the end will be near at some point - which makes the question quite salient: what's next? For the purposes of this piece a PhD and an EdD are the same (I've written elsewhere about the artificial distinction).

So, why a doctoral degree in the first place?
Any discussion about post-doctoral work (not PostDoc, but post-graduation employment) would have to start with the original motivation as to why one wants to pursue a doctoral degree in the first place.  It's a very good question! Everyone answering this has a different answer, and I would say that if your answer is "I want to become a professor," then you better have a Plan B!

For me it's the convergence of a few factors:
(1) Many people in my immediate circles saw the number of masters degrees I had earned and asked me (some jokingly, some not) when I'll finally go get a doctorate.  As if a college degree of any sort is something you can get (I'd say it's earned).  Still, I suspect that they saw it as my natural progression.  So one small reason to pursue it was to shush those (well meaning) folks up.  However, there is always another follow up question from the crowds once you read that doctorate: what's next?
(2) I wanted the credential for my own purposes. For better or for worse, a doctoral degree does open up some doors that those without a doctorate can't open.
(3) I wanted to learn from people in my field (and the people at the university I applied to are world renowned for that).
(4) Finally, a tenure-track job was a minor consideration, but factors 2 and 3 were the bigger ones in my decision-making process.  Having started my career in clerical-style work (could earn overtime, but had little autonomy) to holding down various professional jobs (lots of autonomy, no overtime), I thought that a potential jump to the professoriate could be a thing for me.  After all, I did like research, I liked teaching, and from teaching I liked mentoring those who were just entering the instructional design field. So, #4 has a little bit of #2 in it.   This rationale came before I really got entrenched in an academic department.

So, what do I think now?
I guess the questions never end, eh? Aren't you people happy? 😛 The same people who were asking me about when I would go get my doctoral degree are asking me what's next? Are you going to apply for faculty jobs?

The tl;dr answer is: No, I won't be applying for faculty jobs. If something comes my way - fine, maybe, but I won't pursue it.

Why?  Well, I've had time to think about it, and like the article, what I thought the academy was 20 years ago turns out to not be true (I started working at my institution a little over 20 years ago too!). I've basically distilled it to a few key points (from my own views and data gathered over the years).

1) Tenure is its own type of oppression - I know what you are thinking now: AK! What are you smoking?  Professors have a sweet deal!  They only teach (x-many) classes, they hold their own office hours, come and go as they want, and they have the entire summer off!  Jeez man! Who doesn't want that?  -- Well when I was an hourly employee I thought this too.  Even as a salaried employee who didn't have much contact with the ins and outs of tenure I thought so.  But having seen behind the curtain, the path to tenure (or promotion) doesn't seem very rosy.  The way that I would describe the tenure process is as one long probationary period. A probationary period where people should be mentored into the profession, but often seem not to be the case. In addition, there is the famous publish-or-perish aspect, which some institutions prescribe what and where is to be published (and how much), and some just look at the raw count of publications (and it's up to you to figure it all out, and hope that your eventual reviewers will approve of your choices). During this time period there is precarity in the profession, and you are royally screwed if you happen to be hired by a department (or university) with toxic personalities and non-supporting colleagues.  In my professional life I have never had such a protracted probationary period. Furthermore, I have always been paid for my time [faculty often work summers, even though their contracts as September-May]  and (generally) been asked to do things that I know how to do in order to prove my skills. This bring me to point #2:

2) Faculty are not (always) prepared for the work asked of them, and have no clear understanding of the system that they are a part of - This might range from teaching (although I think doctoral programs are getting better at preparing candidates for teaching) to meaningless committee work that doesn't match their skills, but that they nevertheless need in order to make it to tenure (or promotion).  There are many examples of this: from faculty who are placed on marketing and recruitment committees (universities have staff for that!) or chairs and directors who reluctantly do the work because someone has to do it, and it has to be faculty. Now, I do acknowledge that some people have the knack for this sort of work, some have the knowledge, and some have been conscientious enough to attend workshops, get feedback, and be the best [insert management title here] that they can be; and I've been lucky enough to have met and worked with some of those folks.  That said, the modern academy needs professionals in those positions; professionals who are not going to cycle through their term as [management title] and then a whole new group of younglings enter the [management title position] who ask the same questions of staff and need to be trained to do the work.  Yes, we collectively complain of administrative bloat, but we need to realize that we need to have the right hire(s) for the right job(s) and we need to realize that in the modern academy someone who is trained as a doctor in engineering, sociology, linguistics, mathematics, computer science...etc won't necessarily be the best manager, marketer, director, or curriculum specialist. This brings me to point #3

3) The faculty system, as a whole, is classist and the power dynamics are messed up. - There are many examples of this, and when I say system, I do mean system as a whole.  I've met many, many, fabulous faculty members who see staff (clerical, professional, librarian) and adjuncts (lecturers) as colleagues, and want to work together collaboratively for the benefit of the students.  I've also met raging idiots (to put it mildly) who look down upon their colleagues, whether those colleagues are staff members, part time adjuncts, full time lecturers, or just "junior" faculty who have not obtained tenure yet.  To be honest, any organization will have highs and lows, but as a system the tenure system both tacitly encourages such classist attitudes and at the same time provides the space and fertile ground for meaningless ego stroking. One example is  point #2, where faculty are asked to do stuff they have no skills or preparation in doing [simply because they see it as their job], but at the same time some faculty think they are the bees knees at that topic even when what they do is meaningless and/or badly done.

There is also a level of tone-deafness to the faculty system.  For example,  my campus recently had major parking cost issues. The short version goes like this: is that management is supposed to negotiate with unions across campus if they want to raise prices.  The faculty union on our campus broke away from the campus coalition of unions that negotiated this thing jointly in the hopes (?) that they would get a better deal than the rest of us.  At the same time, on another front, the Faculty Council (you know, joint governance and all) issued a statement encouraging faculty [tenured track, that is] to not come to campus on the days that they don't teach since the costs of parking are prohibitive.  However, in this resolution there was clearly no thought of the students (who might need to be here 3-5 days per week) or staff who usually have to be here all week.  Such unintentional or international classism is what I dislike about this whole system.  This brings me to point #4

4) There is more than enough fear to go around! -  Now granted, there will be some idiots is any work environment (as I said above), however I have a sneaking suspicion that much of what motivates faculty is fear. Fear can make us do some pretty bad things, and make us be pretty crappy people. Fear is an awful way to live one's life!   Now, what do I mean by fear?  I've seen countless examples over the last 15 years.   First, fear that if you don't publish enough, or of the type of work that people expect [but don't necessarily communicate to you] you will perish; but at the same time publishing requirements can be either opaque, so you don't know what you're being evaluated on; or they can be super specific and at a high bar making it hard to meet those requirements.  For example, last semester I was conversing with a colleague from the Classics department. Some of the high ranking Classics journals have a 2-year wait time! That's easily half your tenure-trial period!  In my field, one of the big name Open Access Journals has already met their quota for 2019 and they are not accepting any submissions past May 1st (so a month ago).  That is pressure if you are a tenure track faculty member.   Furthermore, lots of publishing guidelines include journals that are high impact and not Open Access.  If your philosophical positioning is that you want to publish OA and create valuable OER, these things won't necessarily count for tenure.  So, there is fear that you won't make tenure if you don't comply.  There is also fear that you won't reach full faculty rank.

So, between pre-tenure, and promotion, that's easily 15 years where you might keep your head down, say yes to whatever service comes your way, and smile and try to not make enemies that might derail your tenure or promotion down the road.  This fakeness and fake politeness is bad for the profession.  When you are on a committee, and the committee's charge is to evaluate courses that are coming up as new offerings, and you as a subject expert detect bad pedagogical design and are afraid or reluctant to say anything because of academic freedom (or a mistaken notion thereof), or are afraid to offer constructive critique because the person receiving your critique might make your life difficult in the future...then my friend there is a problem! Don't get me wrong, working with others can be a challenge at times (this is undisputed), but we should all expect a professional demeanor and expect that we are all working toward the common goal of improved teaching and learning outcomes for our learners.

This leads me to my last point about tenure...

5) Tenure is a trap! - Perhaps I am being a bit dramatic...but maybe not.   Tenure is a trap in my view.  Once you get tenure, or even once you get promoted to full Professor, you don't want to leave - regardless of the on-ground conditions.  You were successful in running the gauntlet.  You got a permanent job at your institution and you're set for life [errmmm...maybe].  After 5 (or 15) years of keeping your nose down you've made it. Now you can do what you really want, right?  Sure!  Or you might be resigned and bitter because of all those years.  But there are three caveats:

a) even tenure isn't a full-proof way of  guaranteeing that you get to keep you job long term.  If your institution folds (like many SLACs have in the New England area over the last two years), your job is on the chopping block.  If your department shuts down or gets absorbed, your job is on the line.  You say well sure AK, that only makes sense, right? True, and you could apply to other institutions for jobs. However, if you go to another institution chances are high that you will have to go through some tenure-track process again (argh!). Even if you do get hired with tenure, you might still not be at the same rank as before.  And, I'd venture to say that most people don't get hired with tenure; unless you're some sort of Chomsky-type and the institution is actively courting you

b) Tenure is like the Hotel California, once you get it at your institution, you can't easily move elsewhere.  Let's say life circumstances change and you need to move to another state for whatever reason - it's not like you can get hired again elsewhere with tenure - again, not unless you're some sort of Chomsky-type and the institution is actively courting you. If you aren't in the power position many people [appear to] treat you as if there is something wrong with you.  What is it?  Why did AK leave his tenured position at ___?  Was it a personality conflict? Was AK a total jerk? Do we want a total jerk at our university? Oh man, what if he's an axe murderer??? - as you can see a total rational decision to move can devolve into something ludicrous due to speculation and how people view the field. It's just beyond the comprehension of many in the field as to why anyone would leave a tenured position! As an hourly or salaried employee I've never had to deal with this type of catch-22.  I've always felt that if the job doesn't suit me anymore, or want to try my hand at something different, I can look for, and apply, for another job without fearing that my good standing at my current job will be twisted into some sort of what's wrong with him?

c) Finally, What if you don't get tenure?  If you leave before you obtain tenure, or are flatly denied tenure (for whatever reason, a real deficiency or just campus politics), I get the sense that you just get a scarlet letter on you and other institutions don't want to take the a risk on you, especially with such an oversupply of doctoral graduates in the market.  Same as part (b) above, but I think worse.

Tenure, as a system, was meant to incentivize honest opinions, feedback, and true academic freedom, but it's become a place where all those things go to die - because of...fear. This fear is perpetuated and amplified when one considers the precarity of adjuncts, not just how poorly pair they are for their academic labor, but also how far they are from actual job security.  The tenure system, as it exists, pits person against person in this academic fight club. This is plainly wrong.

The wrap: Pay & Job Security
So... where does this leave me personally?  Well, I tend to think practically and pragmatically about job decisions. After all, there are bills to pay. At the moment I think I have a fair amount of job security, broadly speaking, because I've done a variety of jobs in the past, and I have the skills to go to a variety of places and fill a variety of positions if need be. I personally don't want to join the tenure track system where there is a loss of nominal job security until you get tenure, and I certainly don't want to join the precarity of adjuncthood.  But...what if there were a monetary incentive to do so? What if they pay was high enough as to defray the costs of such precarity and fear?  That's where I needed some data.  So...I headed to the 2019 AAUP faculty compensation survey which game me some data.

According to the above data, the average pay public university Assistant Professor Salary is $84,062 [tenure track position] while the average pay for a public university Lecturer is $57,079.  Hmmm... The Professor salary may do it... the lecturer definitely does not.  What does the report say about my university specifically? Well, according to the report the average pay for an Assistant Professor at my current university is:  $91,400, while the average pay for a Lecturer is $73,400. These are numbers that made me question reality for a moment. I know that we hired new faculty recently and none of them go anywhere near $91,000, or even $84,000 as assistant professors.  Hmmm...  So, I looked at the faculty union's contract, and lo and behold there are salary floors for the various ranks. The floor for a Lecturer (the starting rank for that position, there are two higher ranks that you can be elevated to through a tenure-like-review) is $52,000.  The floor for Assistant Professor is: $64,000. I know that the people who were hired as new assistant professors got a little better than the $64,000 floor, but there is a big chasm in my mind between the floor and the average reported institutionally in AAUP. I think that the reality is that most new incoming faculty (tenure track) are paid around $70,000 around here. 



Considering that faculty often work unpaid over the summer (if you want to make tenure, you use your summer to research and publish!), and also considering the classist attitudes of the tenure system - i.e., why isn't 1 FTE [lecturer] not the same in terms of pay as 1 FTE [tenure]? They are both 1 FTE and both have terminal degrees! -  My answer is a hard pass on pursuing tenure. Mostly on points 1, 3, and 4 above.  So, from a practical perspective, I'd venture to say that the pay provided does not defray the costs (monetary, mental, emotional, physical) of pursuing the tenure track. I think I would be better paid, and more impactful in student's lives as a staff member (as I am now), and not as a tenure-track faculty member.


Ultimately my big takeaway from the article was this:
I have no answers to these questions, yet. But I know this. I do not want to further the culture of precarity by relocating for a temporary position. I do not want to prop up the current academic publishing model, in which publishers take all of the profit and bear none of the risk. I do not want to teach so many hours that I cannot pursue my intellectual curiosity and creativity: the things that got me here in the first place. I do not want to nurture that nascent competitive twitch over my collaborative sensibilities. And I do not want to sacrifice my work-life balance and, it follows, my mental and physical health.

I couldn't agree more!


What do you think?
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Rationale? I don't need no stinkin' Rationale!†

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 Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Dissertation proposal, draft number...I don't know - lost count - has been submitted.  Things look good, well at least in my humble view, so I hope I am ready to defend this proposal within the coming month and become a "candidate" soon‡. With the draft submitted I can now focus on the other pile of academic work that needs attending to, and is more collaborative than my dissertation.

In any case, a recent incident (incident sound too austere...happening? occurrence?) I was reminded, for the umpteenth time that what we, as educational researchers, are expected to have a purpose in our research. What is the rationale for the study? people ask. Why undertake this study?  Who benefits? What is the problem you are trying to solve?

As you can tell from the title of this blog post I hold the position that I don't need no stinkin' rationale.

I could make something up like "by examining population X, subgroup Y, we can infer that the results might be applicable to generation Z" (or something like that).  If pressed, I could be convincing in writing some rationale like that, but it wouldn't necessarily be the truth, hence, in my view, it should not be included in the published literature just to check off a requirement.  I firmly believe that if a researcher finds some occurrence interesting and wants to investigate this curiosity they should be able to do so (within the limits of ethical practice of course), without being weighed down by needing to produce a rationale for the study when they try to get it published.

This is by no means new to me.  I've been hearing various versions of this from established researchers for the past decade. My first exposure was when I was an MA student and we had a guest speaker in class who boldly proclaimed that if your research doesn't specifically address social injustices and under-represented populations your research is basically garbage♠. I basically wrote her off because she clearly didn't seem interested in a discussion about this topic (very odd for someone in that position of authority if you ask me).

In any case, while my other experiences with academics have definitely been less polemic compared to that initial experience, I am still surprised that academics basically act within a prescribed box.  I am not taking about the necessity for validity, reliability, and/or trustworthiness. Those are important in research. What I am talking about is purpose. At the end of the day, if I am satisfying my own personal curiosity as to why an event is happening, is that any less valuable than doing it for the benefit of others from the start?  It is certainly appears to be more altruistic, I'll grant you that, but does value diminish simply because you didn't work on something that was meaningful to others as well, at least at the time of research?

Thoughts?


Marginalia
† In writing this post I learned where "I don't need no stinking..." comes from! (see here). Who would have thought an academic rant would teach me some pop culture?
‡ You know, recently I've felt that doctoral students should have some cool video-game-esque ranks, maybe with some badges to go with them, but I guess that's a thought for another post 😜
♠ Well, OK. No, she didn't say this exactly in those words, but based on what she was touting about her research, and her research agenda, and how it was related to other people's work that was more theoretical in nature, or didn't deal with her populations, it was easy to connect the dots.

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What am I training for again?

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From PhD Comics

It's been a while since I've had the bandwidth to think about something other than my dissertation proposal.  When I started this process four years ago (starting with matriculation in March 2014) I thought I'd be the first or second person in my cohort to be done (ha!), but like most marathoners I guess I am part of the pack looking at the fast folks ahead of me 😏.  Being part of the pack does have its benefits, such as getting an idea of how long the process takes (having friends in other cohorts also helps with this).  I thought, initially, when someone submitted their draft (be it proposal or final dissertation) that you would get feedback and signs of life from your various committees soonish, but seeing Lisa's journey (currently at 5 weeks and counting) gave me a reality check. Waiting isn't bad per se (we wait for a ton of things in life), but I think it is the expectation of things to come that makes this type waiting much more anxious for us doctoral student. Questions pop in your mind such as: Will they like what we submitted?  How much editing do they need me to do? Will they ask me to go back to the drawing board? How long will that take?  And if I have to defend this thing next week...well, do I have time to prepare? Do I remember everything I read in my review to the literature? eeek!

That said, I think I should rewind a bit.  What have I been up to?  Well, lots, and lots, and lots of reading and then funneling that into some sort of literature review. The past 4 (or 5?) weekends have been about process (and grit?); they have been about sitting down for hours and crafting what I learned into a coherent literature review. They have been about concentration (and probably some weight gain due to all the sitting...maybe some bad posture as well).  And, at last, this past weekend I finished the 139 page monster, put it all into one word file and emailed by advisor (hopefully she won't hate me because of the length 😜 ).  Without counting references, front-matter, and tables of contents, here is what the word count breaks down to:
  • Chapter 1: Introduction  ≅ 3,800 words
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review  ≅ 16,600 words
  • Chapter 3: Methods ≅ 6,700 words
Assuming that the average academic article is around 8,000 words (with references), I've written 4.5 academic articles, and this isn't even the full dissertation!

Now that the draft is submitted I have some free time (maybe 3-4 weeks if other cohort-mates reports are any indication of average length of waiting) to work on a research project that's been on the back burner and that's collaborative. In this project, in order to make it  to the appropriate word length the operative word is cut. This is a little challenging because when it comes to cutting there aren't really that many options.  Do you cut your methods?  Then reviewers will call you out on incompleteness of methods (and you might actually get penalized for it!).  Do you cut your findings?  Well, for a qualitative research paper without some qualitative data (which takes up space) you could be told that there isn't enough data (or they could say that you are making things up).  Do you cut the literature review?  Well, this seems like the most likely place to make cuts, but how is your reading audience assured that you did your due diligence? Hmmmm... dilemma...dilemma...dilemma.

This pondering lead me down another path: a recent (recentish?) tweet by Maha Bali, a critique of doctoral programs.  The gist of it was that PhD programs don't really prepare you for a lot of things that are expected in academia. The traditional pillars of faculty in academia are research publishing (usually of the academic article variety), service, and teaching; however the critique was that doctoral programs don't really prepare you for these things. I think this is is a much larger discussion which first needs analysis of what faculty actually do and what they are asked to do. Maybe this is an opportunity to examine what faculty do and their relation to other roles at the institution, but for now I want to focus on one part of it: the research and publishing.

I consider myself lucky to have had opportunities to research and publish prior to pursuing my EdD, and to do this both alone and in collaboration with others (as an aside, I find collaboration more satisfying as it satisfied both work and social aspects of life). Working on the doctoral degree affords me the opportunity for some directed study to fill in potential areas that I was missing, and to see things from different frames of view; for instance I have a finer understanding of learning in other fields such as military and health-care (just to pick on a couple) because of my cohort-mates.

However the dissertation process, and the reason for this process, seems quite arcane to me. I understand, from a cognitive perspective, that the dissertation is meant to showcase your skills as a researcher; and those with more romantic dispositions among us might also say that it contributes to the overall level of knowledge in our field. But if you are one of those romantics let me ask you this: when was the last time you cited a dissertation in your research?  And, just in case you are a smarty-pants and you have cited one dissertation, how often do you check out dissertation abstracts for your literature reviews? I digress though... Back on point...

It seems to me that as an academic (well, if I chose to go the tenure track once I earn my EdD) I need to contribute to the field by writing research articles, field notes, book chapters, reports, and maybe even a whole book; and I also need to provide peer reviews to fellow authors.  With the exception of book writing (which every academic does not do), the vast majority of writing is between 3,000 and 9,000 words.  A dissertation  is considerably longer. This makes me wonder (again) whether the purpose of the dissertation is one of endurance (i.e. if you can do this, you can do anything!) or of holding us up to romantic, inappropriate, or irrational standards, as in "once you graduate you are expected to write books". As an aside, this may have been the case when there were fewer scholars around, but these days there aren't enough positions open in the traditional tenure-track faculty profession, so the Alt-Ac isn't even addressed or acknowledged...but again, I digress.

The instructional designer in me has pondered the purpose of the dissertation (even before I applied to doctoral programs). If we've already replaced the once prevalent Masters Thesis with other means of assessment (or at least made the MA Thesis as one of a few options), why can't we do the same with the Doctoral Dissertation, which - if we're honest - just another form of assessment.  I should say that my own point of reference here are what are called 'taught' PhDs where there is required coursework before you are allowed to be a doctoral candidate, and not the kind you might find in Europe where you are apprenticed into the discipline by applying as an apprentice (basically) and just work on your dissertation upon completed of a masters program.

So my three questions out there for you:

  1. Do the traditional pillars of academia still hold up or should be re-conceptualized? What might they be? and how do they work collaboratively with other parts of the academy?
  2. Based on these current pillars where does doctoral education fall short (name your field as fields will most likely vary)
  3. Keeping the dissertation in mind: what would you replace it with? What are the underlying assumptions for your model?


Discussion welcomed (if you blog, feel free to post link)









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Academic precarity and other-blaming

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I think I am going to commission a saint painting (Byzantine style, of course) of Paul Prinsloo (I just need to find a clever Saint Epithet for him).  Here is another though process sparked by something he shared recently on his Facebook.  Paul shared this blog post without comment (I swear, sometimes I feel like this is an online class he's conducting and we're all participating in a massive discussion ;-) ) and it got me thinking...

I do recognize the adjunctification (and probably de-profesionalization) of the professoriate, and I see it as a trend that's not new.  If I really think back to my undergraduate days, almost 20 years ago now, I could probably see it back then as well. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. Academia is (slowly or quickly, depending on your standpoint) becoming a capitalist monster operating on a greedy algorithm. My own university, a state university, seems to be in competition with other state universities in the same state.  Instead of looking at complimentary and cross-institutional programs to help one another out (heck, we all get money from the same source!) we compete with each other in (what seems to be) a Hunger Games-like environment for academia. So we must have a program X, a program Y, and a program Z because our sister schools (20-60 miles away) have similar programs.

Having this as a background, we also have internal fiefdoms shaping up. While the few (lucky?) ones on the tenure track hunker down to protect their ever diminishing ranks and privileges, they leave others on the outside to fend by themselves and to be picked off by the (metaphorical) wolves, by getting adjunct jobs with no job security, high operating costs (you go ahead and travel between several job sites so that you can string together work to pay the bills, see how much that costs both monetarily, physically, and emotionally), no benefits, no retirement, and low wages.  Let's not get started with the (tenured) faculty know-best mentality that exists, where two of the by-products are bastardizations of the notion of self-governance and academic freedom.

There are plenty of problems with academia to go around. That said, anyone pursuing any sort of degree - doctoral, masters, or even bachelors, needs to take a hard look at the path that they are setting for themselves. You need to pursue something that is smart and helps you on the road in getting you a job to pay for yourself (think of Maslow's lower levels if you will). I sort of fell for the glamour of specific jobs.  I loved technology and went for a computer science degree as an undergraduate. I liked it, but that sort of thing wasn't exactly what I was passionate about.  But, back then you could easily get a six-figure job, with a bonus, right out of college if you had a CS degree.  And then the market crashed and jobs were sent off-shore. Luckily I didn't have school debt.  This maybe was easy to predict, but I certainly didn't see it.  I've been more cautious since then.  Faculty jobs (perhaps with the benefit of my own hindsight) are easy to observe as being diminishing in number.

The line that really made me roll my eyes in the blog post was this:
Do you retrain to do HR or Admin or tax preparation and forfeit the research you have done, or do you follow the conventional wisdom that if you are tough enough to hang in there, and brilliant enough to shine through, you'll be the one who gets the job and gets to be the professor? 
The answer is "yes" - you retrain an get other jobs to sustain yourself. If her LinkedIn page is any indication, I'm slightly younger than her, and I've had to adapt a few times in my professional life to keep a roof over my head. It's what the regular person does if they want to survive.  You can do something that's fulfilling in life, but sometimes work that pays the bills and sustains us does not coincide with what fulfills us deep in our soul.

The fact of the matter is that academia (at least in the US, I am not sure globally) has problems. Systemic and systematic problems. Both systems and individuals need to be analyzed to fix the problem, but when people are just looking out for their own good...well eventually we all lose. I should point out that I am in a doctoral program as well. I do it because I like learning and it stretches my mind. But, I don't go into debt for it, and I know that a tenure-track job isn't on the horizon for me for all the obvious reasons. I can still research and publish. I actually do that now, and I've worked with some pretty fabulous people over the years.  I count myself lucky to have been at the right place, at the right time, in the right mindset to capitalize on those acquaintances, make good friends, and expand my learning in the process. The fact of the matter is that just because you've earned a doctorate, doesn't mean that you'll be getting a tenure-track job. That's not how the system works. The system is broken, and you can't play by its "rules" if you want to change the system.

Just my two cents.  Your thoughts?  (now back to my lit review)
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The publication emergency

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Paul Prinsloo has a wealth of thought provoking posts on his facebook ;-)  I wasn't planning on blogging until tomorrow, but this got my mental gears moving and thinking (not about my dissertation, but it's thinking nevertheless).  This blog started as a continuation of a comment I left on Paul's facebook feed. The article that got me thinking is an article on the Daily Nous titled The Publication Emergency.

In the article a journal editor (in the field of philosophy) opines (although not with his editor hat on) that graduate students (I guess this means doctoral students) should be barred from publishing until they are done with their degree. He says that this is not a barring of people who don't hold a doctorate, but rather of people who are in process of earning their doctorate.  So, in theory, some with an MA, but not pursuing a doctorate would be welcome to publish their stuff.  So, even if an article is good and has merit, if its author is in process of earning a doctorate they'd get an automatic rejection.

It was an interesting read, and a good thought piece - and in all honesty I think that that since the author is a philosopher he is either trolling us or trying to get us to think more deeply about this topic. I certainly hope so at least because I don't think there is a way for me to disagree more with the position expressed (my disagreement has reached 11 😉 ).

The proposal seems to be trying to address the problem of the proliferation of credentials amogst the professoriate, of which I'd argue that publications is one kind of credential.  And, this proliferration of credentials is making it much more competitive for those in the professoriate at a variety of levels.  To deal with this problem the proposal is to arbitrarily eliminate one segment of the population, barring them from publications. It's arbitrary because someone without a doctorate, as mentioned above, is still NOT barred from publication, except if they are in the middle of earning one. So someone like me publishing prior to entering a doctoral program is fine, but if I enter that gray zone it suddenly is not? (not trying to make this about me, I promise 😛 ).

I see the problem as being more systematic, and the credentialing is a symptom of a larger issue (something we see at level beneath the doctoral level as well!)   Doctoral programs have increased and saturated the market.  Doctoral programs have gone from artisanal experiences, where few people applied, fewer were selected, cohorts were smaller and members shared the 'pain' of the experience. Sort of like going through an elite military program, but in academia.  Nowadays doctoral programs have (mostly) morphed to being cash cows for universities. More PhD† students graduating means more competition in the tenure stream job market; that is of course unless your program was thinking ahead and designed doctoral programs whose goals are not just to create new tenure stream faculty, but also work in other facets of society. More programs means more candidates competing for fewer jobs and resources (journals being  one of those resources). Hence, you need additional credentials to make it, such as doing post-docs (which I'd call exploitative labor), other type free work and volunteering, more papers published, etc., in order to get an edge.  It reminds me a lot of high school when people joined as many extracurriculars in order to pad their college application 😒

So, now you have a problem, my friend! You see, more early academics‡ publishing because current professors claim that they don't have the ability to publish as much because the journal market is saturated - with the author of the article citing 500-600 submissions to a journal per year. Add this to the budding market of predatory journals, and you've got a really bad mix.  An invalid argument that was proposed in the article is "well if the argument of a graduate student is good now, imagine how good it will be in the future!"  I don't buy this.  Academia has setup a perverse set of incentives, including keeping track of citations.  If the goal is to write something good and get citations for it, why wait? Ideas don't have a monogenesis, so if you wait someone else will beat you to the punch. Why handicap younger scholars who should actually be apprenticed into this? Another proposal is to not have anything published before you got your current tenure-stream job not count, so that people can see what you can do on the job.  This also made me roll my eyes a bit. 🙄 Why practice selective amnesia? Simply to sour the milk and prevent people from doing something?

I think academia needs to seriously look systematically at the perverse incentives it has provided over the past 40 years♠ and deal with those rather than just dealing with a symptoms in ways that are arbitrary, and at best, a bandaid on a bleeding patient.  Doctoral students should be encouraged to publish, it's good practice for those who want to go into the professoriate.  Why not have the benefit of mentorship while undertaking this?  Furthermore, the publish-or-perish modus operandi for academic units needs to finally be put to rest.  Faculty positions need much more granularity than what the current system allows for.  Faculty hired as lab scientists should be evaluated more on their research and publication performance. Faculty who do mostly teaching should be evaluated more on that.  Tenure and academic freedom should not just the playground of research PhDs, and we shouldn't try to shoehorn everything into a research PhD framework. This to me seems like a vestige of positivism, and our profession needs to think more seriously about a more dynamic, better representative, professoriate.  More holistic means of evaluation will most likely take the pressure of the publication system.



NOTES
† PhDs is just my short term for any sort of doctorate, I don't really want to get into the whole PhD/EdD thing...
‡ By early academic I don't just mean tenure-track folks, but doctoral students
♠ just an estimate on my part, based on my conversations with others in field more time than I
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Campus deadzones, and creepy hallways: where did everyone go?

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Found image on Google
(not actually a photo of me)
Happy Friday dear readers! (umm...anyone still there?  I swear! I am alive! 😆)

I've been attempting to write a blog post all week (and trying to do the 10 minutes of writing per day), but I've been failing on that account...I guess Fridays are a better day as things wind down from the week.  In any case, there is an article from the Chronicle that's been on my mind this week titled "Our Hallways are too quiet". Our department chair sent this to us (everyone in the department) as a thought piece, perhaps something to ponder and discuss in the fall - probably because our department is also like the department that is described in the article.

I had a variety of cognitive and emotional processes go off, and get gears grinding while I was reading this.  I actually hadn't noticed that the author was from MIT...who only recently "discovered" online learning (like Columbus discovering the New World).  Yes, I am a little snarky, but I also think that your frame of reference is really important.  If you are a Bricks and Mortar institution what you consider "community" might look different from an institution that is focused on distance education (or at least has a substantial DE component).  But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me just say this:  My job title is "Online Program Manager" - as in the person who runs the online components of a specific MA program.  Having been on campus for close to 20 years now, in a variety of roles, I can see both sides.  I think this particular article is really biased, in ways that their author doesn't even get.

Let's start with this:
Entire departments can seem like dead zones, and whole days can pass with only a glimpse of a faculty member as someone comes to campus to meet a student, attend a meeting, or teach a class. The halls are eerily quiet. Students, having figured this out, are also absent. Only the staff are present.
This excerpt, as well as the rest of the article, is very faculty-centric.  As if the faculty (or this particular faculty member anyway) are the only ones who suffer any consequences from creepy hallways.  In my most recent job (headed into my 6th year soon!), and my first in an academic department, I've experienced the demoralization that comes with absence of colleagues.  In all of my others jobs on campus I've always had colleagues around (with the exception of vacations and such).  Whereas in an academic department I didn't (don't) always see people.  In my induction period (when I was getting the lay of the land and doing a SWOT analysis of the program I was managing so I could be more effective) Mondays through Thursdays I'd at least see my fellow program managers and faculty here and there, but on Fridays it almost felt like being in the movie I Am Legend.  Granted, this didn't bother me back then because there was a lot of paper records to go through and make heads and tails out of everything. Being busy meant that I didn't really mind being alone.  Once all paper was organized, made sense of, and work could be done remotely, the big question that comes to mind is this:  Well, if I can do my work remotely, and I don't have to deal with the x-hour commute, why would I need to go in?  especially for someone who manages a distance learning program.  If one group of employees (faculty) can work remotely (effectively) why not another group whose job duties are conducive to it?  I do agree with one point made above:  students having figured out that faculty aren't there are also not there; but there is a big caveat here:  who are your students? Students in my department are (by and large) working adults, so even if faculty were around it doesn't mean we'd suddenly have students sitting around in semi-circles, drinking their dunkies coffee (local affectionate term for Dunkin' Donuts) and discussing Derrida.  If you think that way, you're living in a fantasy.  Student demographics matter.

Goin' onto the next point. The author writes about faculty avoid the office for a variety of old fashioned reasons, such as not being able to get work done, avoiding feuds, and avoiding time-sinks like watercooler talk, but then she turns her attention to the perennial foe: technology!
A big reason for decreased faculty presence in their campus offices is technology. Networked computers that allow one to write anywhere also allow us to have conversations with students and colleagues that used to take place in person. Creating new course materials and ordering books is easily done online. Cloud software has made pretty much all our work processes easily done from home, a vacation cabin, a foreign conference hotel. For many scholars, this has been a very liberating occurrence, giving them wondrous flexibility.
Pardon me, I don't know you, but I call 💀💢🐄💩😡 on this argument.  Yes.  technology has facilitated certain efficiencies, like not having to fill out a form in triplicate, or not having to wait overnight for a journal article query that only returns title and abstract of potentially relevant articles to you.  Technology has not caused faculty not to want to come to the office.  Other organizational factors play a major role in the day to day decisions on whether or not to work remotely.  When research productivity is sought more, then people will do what they need to do to be more productive in their research.  If community engagement, service, teaching, or other aspects of the professoriate are valued more, than people will gravitate toward those.  I basically comes down to incentives, and when there is little incentive to be on campus to meet those objectives, then you will undertake them at a place that is most convenient for you.  I think a lot has to do with the expectations set forth by the institution, the institutional culture, and by extension the departmental culture.  Sure, you can have a department chair (the head honcho in an academic department) mandate that everyone (yes, including faculty) have to be there 3 days per week, and put in at least 10 hours of  'face time' into the department during regular business hours (9-5).  That's really only 3 hours per day. Does 3 hours per day really build community?  Nope.  Does 3 hours per day guarantee that people will be there on those same days and hours?  Nope.  This is the equivalent of butts in seats, for no good reason.  It's as anachronistic as forcing students to endure a long lecture just because you haven't through of your pedagogies.  First you determine what your root goal is (and no, more face time isn't a worthy goal), and then you hatch a plan to get there, while at the same time taking into consideration the various local variables, norms, and expectations (heck, maybe those need some rethinking too!)

Every time I hear about technology as the "big bad" I am reminded of the rebooted (and cancelled) Thurdecats.  From the fan wiki article (with my own annotations in brackets):
Most citizens [of Thundera] abhorred technology, denying the existance of machinery entirely and leaving thoughts of such things as fairy tales. This belief was a major contributing factor to their destruction as the lizards [their enemy] attacked them with advanced bipedal war machines Warbots while the ThunderCats fought with bows and arrows.
Just an interesting side-trip - take it as you will 😂

Anyway, moving along, finally, I see a conflation of the sense of community with face time, and they are not the same thing.  The author writes:
Some would argue that worrying about departmental community is ridiculous. After all, professors aren’t hired or promoted on the basis of departmental relationships, or civic engagement, and most faculty members desperately need quiet time in which to do research and write. True enough. As my colleague, Sherry Turkle, has argued: Conversation matters. Personal contact matters. It is very hard to build relationships with people we do not see in person, and such relationships are the bedrock of so much else that matters on any campus.
I think community is important.  However just because someone is not in their office at the same time YOU are in your office doesn't mean that you can't have community.  And just because you re not meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't communicating.  And just because you aren't meeting face to face doesn't mean that you aren't having personal contact! I've had lots of meaningful conversations, and personal contact with my many distance friends, family, and colleagues over the year.  From my doctoral cohort, to vconnecting friends and colleagues (sorry I've been a ghost - dissertation is sucking my mental energy), to colleagues who are geographically dispersed.  Every time I hear of Sherry Turkle I can't help but roll my eyes. Yes, face to face is nice.  Yes, I like face to face sometimes, but face to face ain't the end all be all of conversations, connections, communities, and work.  Yes, we do need community.  Without it we are just a loosely joined confederation of people maybe striving toward a common goal (maybe not), but with community we become stronger, and we get smarter.  But community can be achieved in a different ways (look at vconnecting for example).

To wrap up, I am reminded of a joke, or something that one of my mentors (Pat Fahy) kept saying "It's the parking, stupid!".  This was the response to the question "why do students pursue distance education?".  Of course, this is just one piece of the puzzle; others being things like mobility issues, health issues, childcare, elder-care, working two (or more) jobs, and so on.  I think in an era where we are offering some really great distance education programs (oh yeah...welcome to the party, MIT), and we've seriously considered what makes a good online program for our disciplines in order to get here, it would behoove us to also look at what makes our jobs effective and how we can effectively build communities of various modalities.  Forcing grown human beings to have face time so that they form community is the equivalent of having your kids forced to stay with "weird uncle mike" or grandma, because you feel like your kids need a connection with the rest of your family, but you haven't bothered making them part of your family in the day to day, except only on holidays.  Both kids, and adults, resent such forced actions.  We can do better.  Just sayin'

OK, now that I've ranted on 😏 - what do you think? 😃


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MOOCs as admissions considerations

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It's been a while since I've sat down to blog (with the exception of my brief postings last week).  I guess I've had my nose firmly planted in books (physical and digital) trying to get through the reading components of my dissertation proposal so I can sit down and write. I tend to find (for me anyway) that having a bit more of a complete picture in my head as to what I want to write about cuts down a a ton of edits down the road. Because of this I also haven't really engaged a lot with my learning community (MOOCs and LOOMs alike).

That said, a recent work encounter broke my blogging slumber and has pulled me from my dissertation a bit.  In my day job one of my roles is to answer questions about our department's program (what is applied linguistics, anyway? j/k 😆) and that includes questions about admissions. While we prefer applicants with a background in linguistics or related background  such as languages (such as French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Greek, whatever language and literature background) we do accept others who did their BA in something different.  Personally I think that the language is archaic and comes from a time when the mission and vision of our department was slightly different, but that's neither here no there.  My point is that when there are people interested in our program who come from a background other than languages (such as business, or computer science for example) the question always becomes  how can I better prepare for this program, and ensure I get admitted? Basically ensuring that the applicant shows some sort of connection with between their interest in our program and what they did, or want to do.

In the past couple of years MOOCs have come up!  Even though I've been steeped in MOOCs for the past six years I didn't really think others were.  Furthermore, it amazes me how much value others place in MOOCs, and MOOCs that they have taken. Personally, while I like taking xMOOCs (I just signed up for about 10 of them recently through edx and future learn, and I am trying to do one on Canvas on collaborative ICT...) I don't know if I would ever mention my exploits in the MOOC arena to others (except maybe through my blog, or through a group of close MOOC friends).  My rationale for not sharing my learning is this:  While I personally derive value from what I do in MOOCs (it expands my own horizons, even if I am just viewing some videos) I also know that assessments are a little forced in xMOOCs.  Simple MCEs or short-answer peer-graded assignments don't really point toward mastery of something.  In ye olde days of xMOOCs the certificates of participation were free; provided that you completed the MOOC in its original run.  Now xMOOCs require you to pay for a certificate of participation, and I personally don't see any value to that.  Even if you pay for a verified certificate where you have someone proctor you while taking MCEs, what does that really mean?  That you can take a test?

This all got me thinking about the potential use of MOOCs for application purposes.  I personally think that by taking (and completing) a MOOC it shows interest in the topic, so that's a positive for the applicant, but it doesn't necessarily show any mastery. So, while useful, it definitely has its limitations.  The certificates don't really mean much to me for my current work, and yes - I do hold on to the certs that received while they were still free (😉) but I don't see additional value to the ones that people get these days in exchange for cash.

What do you think? Is there a value to students doing MOOCs with the aim of getting into a specific part of higher ed?
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Loyalty a one way street?

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[Warning: longer than usual post] Recently I came across an article on InsideHigherEd titled In Higher Ed, Loyalty Is a One-Way Street, and the tagline was "Loyalty of students and faculty is often demanded. Is it returned?"   The main thesis of the article is that in higher education the job you're in is the job you're in unless you apply for another job and get in, at which point you can either leave your old job or use your new offer as leverage for a better job (or better pay) at your current job.  The article is written from a faculty perspective, but it resonated with my own experiences at the university.  However, I wouldn't really call it an issue with loyalty, but rather it's an issue of organizational culture and lack of meaningful (to the individual) rewards for that loyalty.   Here are my observations as a staff member from the last (close to) 20 years at my institution, and a story from my first job on-campus.

When I first started working here, I worked as an assistant (no benefits, hourly employee) in media services while studying as an undergraduate. It was a fun job, I worked with, and for, interesting people and I can say that I learned a lot from the job and from the people I interacted with.  The job was always meant to be temporary since it was renewed on a semester-by-semester basis.  And in my second year of employment I got more responsibility by being given the reigns of the weekend operations (again hourly, non-benefited, but more responsibility).  After about 3 years of being non-benefited someone retired and his job posting opened up.

Having show progressive responsibility I was a prime candidate for the position. I applied, interviewed, and ultimately got the position.  I still worked in the same place as before, doing about the same things, but now I was benefited, full-time, with managerial responsibilities on top of everything else.  For five years I did my best to learn more about my job, and to try to be innovative to help the department.  I started an MBA, I joined a professional association (with my own money),  I learned, prepared, and passed the relevant entry level certification, I connected with IT folks from the university to keep my department in the loop, and I volunteered for AV projects with my colleagues during slow periods in the office. I didn't do this for recognition, but so that I can be better at my job.  Ultimately however, one does expect some sort of recognition (in some way, shape, or form). Our university does not award merit points for employees who continue to keep up with their professional development.   Everyone gets the same Cost of Living (COLA) increase as everyone else.  If you want a pay increase you need to show that your duties have significantly changed since you were hired.

In five years my duties had indeed changed in practice, but not on my job description (what governs your pay).  I was doing different work than my colleagues, but we were all paid the same; they actually were paid more as a result of compounding COLA increases, because they had been working here longer, which was fine.  Our supervisor was a nice guy, but he hated to differentiate (the kind of person who treats all his kids equally, no matter what).  This was problematic because everyone he managed "exceeded expectations", but this praise felt a little hollow after a few years.  Praise needs to be accompanied by something else to be useful (if you use it a lot), like a little more flexibility on vacation, or a pay increase, or some money to attend a PD event, or whatever. So, the only option for a little more money was to go through the official procedure (which was fine).  My boss at the time told me that he supported me, but privately he told others that he would never support it unless others got the same deal (regardless of their duties).  This was a natural extension of "treat everyone the same".  Since I ultimately did not get a promotion there, I looked elsewhere for work.  It was sad because I liked both the job and my colleagues, but you do what you have to do.  When I told my boss that I got another job, his boss attempted to retain me in the department asking if I would stay if they matched the salary. I would! But, I wouldn't wait around for it (two in the hand is worth more than two in the bush).  Since they couldn't make it happen, I left. I still kept in contact with my colleagues there, they were great people (and it's a small campus), but I left that department. And they were inconvenienced because they couldn't hire a replacement right away, and my area was the busiest on campus (based on department held statistics).

To bring it back to the IHE article, without knowing that this is the game to play in academia, I ended up playing this game.  I looked for other jobs, I interviewed for them, got an offer for them, and did respond in the affirmative that I would stay if they matched the salary (which would also mean that I would get another job description, which was originally turned down). But, given the steep bureaucracy of the university (at least mine), it wouldn't have been nimble enough to do it as quickly as accepting the new job offer, and the trust relationship was broken since my supervisor told me one thing and told others something else (those others eventually telling me), so there was no guarantee that the retention offer was any good.

This is one story.  I've experienced other things in my close-to-20-years here, and I've spoken to colleagues and have heard their stories too over the years.  My 2c on the matter are as follows (mileage at your college may vary, this is just based on my local colleagues around the Boston area):

There is a fundamental problem of organization culture.  Warner writes that  he has"witnessed genuine loyalty among colleagues at the department level, but this is a reaction and response to the lack of loyalty at the larger institution level. They have banded together as protection from above." I've seen this myself, and have heard it from colleagues at other institutions as well.  Some departments are better at self-supporting than other departments but this creates structural inequalities within the organization as a whole.  If your supervisor likes you, and you get all the perks in your department, but a colleague is not liked (or has an ineffective supervisor, or doesn't enjoy the group protection you do, etc.) they do not get any of the perks you get, an in some cases doing the same job! This type of unequal treatment isn't a hypothetical, it's happening. And in instances where merit payment are involved some employees may be eligible for a merit pool because their supervisor loves them and gives the "Exceeds expectations" all the time, while other employees might be working for someone who believes in the power of the bell curve, and everyone "meets expectations" with the exception of a few 'high performers' and a few 'low performers', so in essence these managers no only shoehorn people into the bell curve, they deny them an opportunity for merit/bonus pay that they would be entitled to if their supervisor were someone else.

Another issue I've seen is that everything is treated as a net-zero outcome.  Someone's gain is regularly someone else's loss.  So if you work for a big department (or a college/faculty within a university), if an employee has an opportunity to grow in their job, but that growth takes them out of their smaller sub-unit into another sub-unit of the organization, the organization is resistant to embrace this.  Even though the employee will still be connected to their previous sub-unit, and could help take care of work/issues within that sub-unit as well, that "transfer" would be most likely blocked because the originating sub-unit would not necessarily be able to get funding to replace that previous position.  There concern seems to be how many warm bodies each department has, and not necessarily what type of work needs to be done.  Just as an example from my first job on-campus.  It's been 12 years since I left that job. The number of warm bodies doing  the same work has remained the same even after having 2 retirements and (sadly) 1 death. Those positions have been replaced to do pretty much the same thing, regardless of where research into educational technology and learning have lead us since. That department is still a separate fiefdom and people get annoyed when they are asked to take care of something that another IT department "should" be doing (never-mind that they are all part of the same IT parent department).

Finally, it might seem that my position is higher salary (or other monetary perks) as a general acknowledgment of employees' good work and loyalty.  Or, associated with more money is moving up the ladder work-wise into a more managerial position.  While money and career development are nice, sometimes they are not the end-all be-all.  My former colleagues seemed to like what they did.  They didn't seem interested in changing jobs for higher pay.  Maybe pay for them wasn't even a top concern (bills paid, mortgage paid, savings at an OK level), but they may have wanted more flexibility for vacations in order to spend more time with their family. A flexible organization should be able to be able to give such perks (fairly, and across the organization) to people who earn it (good work, loyalty, and so on), and at the same time have the resilience to work around any issues that might arise from this individual flexibility provided.

At our institution I think that the institution does attempt to demonstrate appreciation of loyalty to its employees, and I do think that upper administrators care (to some extent at least); that is to say I don't believe them to be greedy monsters that just look at the bottom line.  One of the events we have each year is the "years of service" event where people are recognized for their service in 5 year increments.  Last year I was recognized for 15 years of (benefitted) service to the institution for example.

In the end I don't think it it's a matter of loyalty.  Loyalty (or lack of loyalty) is a conscious effort (or lack of effort).  I think the issue is systemic, and it's really an issue of management.

So... my question (to anyone who is reading this), is how to we make academia responsive, and at the same time equitable, and flexible so that it works both at the individual level and at the organizational level?  Thoughts?
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Institutional Memory

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It's been a long time since I've blogged about something educational, other than my classes of course.  With one thing down (and a million more to go), I decided to take a little breather to see what's accumulated on Pocket over these past few months.  I saw a post by Martin Weller on Institutional Memory, and it seemed quite pertinent to my day to day work existence these past six or so months.  Martin points to a BBC article indicating that the optimal time in a specific job is around 3 years.

This isn't the first time I've heard this.  About 11 years ago (wow!) I was working for my university library.  I was new to the Systems Department (the IT department in a library) and my supervisor was new.  When we were getting to know more about each other's work histories (before you could look at LinkedIn profiles), she had told me that she aimed to stay there for a few years and then move on. People should only stay in their current work for 3 years. At the time I found this advice a little odd, after all I had stayed with my previous department for 8 years total, before moving to the library, and even then I still stayed within the institution.

From my own experience I can say that if institutions were perfectly running machines, with perfectly documented procedures, and good version histories that we could reference to get an insight into why things are done the way they are done, then "short" 3 year stays at a job (or an institution) might (in theory) make sense.  You come in, the institution benefits from your expertise, you benefit from the experience, you (metaphorically) hug and go your separate ways at the end of your tour. However, institutions are complex organisms. The reasons why things are the way they are might not be documented. Sometimes the procedure was a backroom deal between one academic Dean and another.  Sometimes it's the duct tape and paper-clip that holds everything together because at the time the organization didn't have the ability to break everything down and rework something from scratch.  Other times it's good ol' fashioned human-human relationships that make things work (i.e. bypassing parts of the system where things are bottlenecked but no one will change things).

Given this reality, I think 3 years is a rather short time to spend at a job or an institution.  I know that when I've changed jobs it's taken me up to a year to fully "get" all the connections, the people, and the systems in place to not only do my job but to do my job effectively and efficiently. Leaving before you can make a lasting impact at the institution is a little selfish given that the employee gets good exposure to new skills and ideas, but leaves before they can really put those to use on anything more than a bandaid†.

Sure.  Even when you stay at an organization for more than 3 years, after a little while you will reach the plateau of efficiency in what you are doing. It may take you 3 years, it might take you 2, it might take more.  Sooner or later you will get there.  At that point, that's when the organization has a responsibility to keep things fresh for their employees. This benefits both the organization and the employees.  Employees feel challenged, in good ways, (think of it as a ZPD for work), and organizations get to retain and employ the talent that they've incubated.  If people leave because they feel bored that's a shortcoming of the organization.

I know that in my own experience working at my university (19 years now), even though my jobs have changed, and my departments have changed, that institutional knowledge follows me, and I share it with other people. Just because something might not be of particular use to me right now, it doesn't mean that it's not useful to another colleague who is newer at the institution.  Having this oral history, and this means of passing it down to others is of use.  Leaving your post and experiencing this high turnover rate  is detrimental to an institution‡.

Your thoughts?



NOTES:
† Don't get me wrong, private sector companies, especially ones that vehemently refuse union organization, and use globalization as a way to use and abuse employees by not paying them a living wage, by not providing good benefits, and by shirking their responsibilities in their social contracts are not worthy of employee loyalty of this nature. We just can't afford, as people to to say "I am only looking out for myself".

‡ Another thing that came to mind, as I was writing this, has to do with hiring. Hiring isn't as simple as posting a job at the university's "help wanted" site. Between the time a need for someone arises, and someone is hired, it can take a very (very) long time.  Just as an example, there are two jobs that come to mind that I applied for.  One for my current job where I applied in March, interviewed in December, started in February).  My job at library systems where I applied in February (I think), got the call for an interview in November, heard that I got the job in December, started in January. All of this is considered "fast", so when it takes that long to get hired, I would say that 3 years somewhere is a rather short time.
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