Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two things I've managed to avoid writing anything about

1) The York strike. Basically, the Kafka-esque absurdity of the modern University is well-described by Chet, here. I see with some dismay that John Tory is calling for the striking faculty and assistants to be legislated back to work. I think John Tory is jealous because CUPE has demonstrated it can do something Tory can't: actually win a vote.

I'd like to dwell on this for just one second longer, and say that it's especially grating that various non-tenured teachers at universities get treated like dogs, because distressingly frequently the actual tenured professors are shit. Every negative stereotype that exists about lazy public school teachers and actually applies 5% of the time exists at least as frequently when you move up to post-secondary education. (Before you accuse me of sounding like Ezra Klein, note the corollary to my last assertion. See? The value of a BA!) To put it quite bluntly, if I had to judge the value of my university education based solely on the experience of tenured or tenure-track professors, the discount would have to be somewhere in the range of 25-35%, I think. I had some fantastic TAs and contract lecturers, far more than I had any really bad experiences with bad ones. Meanwhile, I think I could (but won't) name at least one really sub-standard (and sometimes truly awful) Prof from each year that I attended Carleton. In some years, I had a truly awful Prof (as in change my degree awful) each semester.

Clearly, this is an entirely subjective view and shouldn't be taken as gospel. But that's my point: these people are teachers, and some of them are damn good ones. If they're going to do the work that the University makes its money from, they deserve some measure of security, both in terms of commensurate pay and in job stability.

2) Gaza: Basically, if you've read this blog long enough you know my views on Israel, Palestine, etc. I did cite Rob Farley's views, and I think that's about what Israel has gotten out of this mess: Lebanon III. Let's just hope they can learn from Hollywood and know that a fourth movie never, ever works out well. Especially if the original trilogy is shit.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every negative stereotype that exists about lazy public school teachers and actually applies 5% of the time exists at least as frequently when you move up to post-secondary education.

I would re-iterate - it depends entirely on the post-secondary institution you are talking about. After working at and attending many different midwestern US universities over the last decade+ of my life, the pattern is almost universally the same - departments that grant PhDs generally have many tenured faculty who are gawdawful teachers and a few who are gems (modulo the size of the department). Departments that have degree programs that cut out at Master's degrees or lower generally have very few faculty members who are really bad at teaching, and also generally have some outstandingly stellar communicators among their faculty who are really damn good at it.

My hypothesis for this - and this is TOTALLY CRAZY - is that if you have an institution that puts a high value on being a decent teacher to get tenure, the faculty end up being mostly good teachers. And if you have an institution that requires you to be a decent researcher to get tenure, the faculty end up being mostly good researchers.

I know, I know. It's totally crazy. This whole idea that the incentives the institution provides for employment could possibly impact that skillset of the employees? Crazy talk. Possibly Communist.

Of course, what's equally crazy is the idea that people would continue to give money to those institutions who employ lousy teachers in order to have those lousy teachers instruct them (poorly) for their degrees. Why, if it were the case that people continued to give money to institutions that were providing poor instruction, it might mean that the students working towards those degrees were, in fact, not looking primarily to get a really good education at all and were instead paying a premium for the "good name" of the institution they received the degree from. A "good name" that is mostly earned not due to the quality of education provided to students but rather to the reputation the institution has for "scholarship" (i.e. "research and publication"). Which would lead the university to prize its reputation for "scholarship" far, far more than its reputation for teaching.

Totally crazy. Right.

--NonyNony

Chet Scoville said...

CUPE has demonstrated it can do something Tory can't: actually win a vote

Ouch.