Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Which I Have Turned Curmudgeon

I'm putting together a presentation for students who are interested in going to grad school, so I've done some basic prep work, including looking at the JIL and talking to some folks, including folks who are currently in grad programs.

The current grad students seem cool and interesting, but at least one is doing a dissertation on "imaginary monsterish being through literary history." You can guess which imaginary monsterish being. The project sounds interesting; it's not that it's a stupid project or anything.

But, when I look at the JIL, I can't quite see where this grad student's going to apply with real success. There are a jobs in traditional fields, Shakespeare, medieval, blah blah. And there are jobs in really new areas, digital humanities and such. But with the exception of a few really small SLACs that want one person to cover most of literature, I'm not seeing jobs where I would be convinced that someone working on a trans-historical, several centuries of lit sort of project in multiple cultures would be the most convincing candidate.

If we want to hire someone, say, in adolescent lit, which would fit some of the works in the grad student's IMBTLH, there are going to be 20 candidates who are much more thoroughly grounded in adolescent lit as a discipline. And if I'm looking for someone to teach Victorian lit, or film, or whatever, there will be many candidates who are centered in those fields more deeply.

I didn't say anything. It's not my place, because it's not like I teach in this grad student's program, and who am I to say. In a few years, there may be jobs begging for people who teach just what the student is working on.

It's sort of like the problem with inter-disciplinary work. Administrations say they really, really want classes taught that are cross- or inter- or multi-disciplinary. But when push comes to shove, most schools have fairly traditional departments, and those departments still want someone to teach disciplinary courses because our disciplines do matter to us. (Just ask any real psych person what they think of English people who teach Freud as psych. Or ask any real historian what they think of English lit folks who love Foucault as a historian.)

At some point it's bound to change, and there will be more places such as Cal State Monterey Bay, but even CSMB looks more traditional now than it did when they first started.

Okay, and while I'm at it, one course in a sub-field does not actually qualify you to teach that sub-field if there are whole degrees offered in that sub-field with lots of specialized courses.


And since I'm on a curmudgeonly path today, can I say that I'm really unhappy about some of the programs I'm seeing proposed at my school and elsewhere? I am. I was in a meeting the other day where some faculty and administrators proposed setting up a degree that I've never heard of. But, they said, it's very popular with this specific population when they google! And, they said, this population has money to pay for college, and if we don't offer this degree, they'll go to [private, for profit corporate school]. And, they said, the state wants us to do this! This population's members already have jobs, but they need a degree, and no one really cares what that degree is, because it doesn't matter. They just need some initials after their names.

So I googled. On the first couple of pages I looked at, pretty much every link but one is to a for profit. And the other is to a school we'd never consider in our peer group.

Why, some of us asked, wouldn't this program be part of X, which already exists? Why a new degree, why not a BA/BS in this field?

The non-answers, though implied: if it were in X, then the students would have to take a bunch of hard X type classes, and they wouldn't be able to finish up and give us our money and such. And if we do a traditional BA/BS program, then the students would either have to take a year of foreign language, or additional math, and that would be TOO HARD!

I think we're cheapening our degree, and it's already pretty low in terms of cultural capital. And instead of really addressing what the state needs, which is an educated populace, we're addressing what the state can measure, which is the number of adults with degrees.

But, they say, you can't guarantee that anyone who graduates actually is educated, so why should we even try to make that an issue with this degree?

And so, I was one of a rare no vote contingent. This is the second program in a couple years that we've put in place to make things as easy as possible for the most marginal students.

We'll take their money and give them meaningless initials and they won't know any better. But we should know better.

Of course, the folks on this committee who voted yes would say that I'm totally wrong and that we're offering these potential students a high quality educational experience and a meaningful university degree. And, on some level, I have to trust that they really are right and I really am wrong. Or at least, I have to act like I believe that's so.


  1. I am thankful that our professional degree is accredited and that the accreditation in our field actually means something. What you describe is depressing and all too easy to imagine happening anywhere.

  2. FWIW, I respect you for your no vote. I like to think that I'd have voted the same way, were I in your position. All the blandishments your colleagues offered in support of the new bullshit sounds contradictory to what you know perfectly well to be true. If anyone of that bunch offers you a glass of Kool-Aid, don't drink it.

    Drink whiskey instead.

  3. um, but isn't it unfair to other students carrying the full complement of requirements if you offer an easier route for some with more money? plus, of course, the special-track students will not get the well-rounded education that presumably is the foundation of your institution.

  4. I'm not even going to try to guess the program involved. Depressing. And good for you (and others) for voting no, even if you were outvoted.

    As for the job thing, when I taught in an interdisciplinary program I always told my students to prepare themselves so they would look credible in a conventional job. If you think you want to be hired in Department X, know how to teach the survey course, or whatever the bread and butter course is. Make sure your research will make sense. Etc. We're hiring in English Ren. Literature, and while we are small, and tehrefore will want someone flexible and with broad teaching interests, we really want a Renaissance person for our grad program.