The Proclaimers

proclaimingI’ve seen a lot of early career people teaching — of course, I was once one of them, like us all, back when, at the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I would write out entire lectures the day or night before and then read them each class, sticking closely to my text — and they unfortunately share a trait with some of their older, supposedly experienced colleagues: they’re proclaimers. Sitting at the back of a classroom, during the typical practice teaching moment for a job interview (something we require in our Department, along with a research presentation and a variety of other steps that comprise the typical on-campus job interview today), I’ve heard my share of candidates talk about methodological this and ontological that, hierophanies abound as do ideologies, and liminalities, and transcendental epistemologies, not to mention some post-structuralist ennui. But in the midst of the technical vocabulary I often find people who do not yet know how to teach but who, instead, are equipped only to tell people what they themselves already happen to know.

In a word, they’re proclaimers. Continue reading

Dispatch from a UK Classroom

Adam and EveA friend in the UK on Facebook just posted this newspaper article for what seems to be a new series, “Academic Anonymous” — “where academics can tell it like it is”– entitled:

Teaching Religion: My Students are Trying to Run My Course

Not a few academics in the UK now feel rather frustrated, what with a variety of changes in higher education funding brought about recently by the government there — issues not unfamiliar on this side of the Atlantic, of course, where an increasing emphasis on tuition-based funding (in response to widespread cuts in government funding) has sometimes led to a “student-as-customer” model, a model that sometimes suggests to a few students that their mere attendance in class warrants an A. Continue reading

Isn’t That Special

Picture 5Did you see the post from last year at The Chronicle‘s site, on widespread dissatisfaction of mid-career profs? I’d not, so thanks to a Facebook friend for re-posting it the other day.

The researcher who conducted the survey of over 13,510 faculty comments: Continue reading

Research and or versus Teaching?

researchingHave you been following higher ed issues in the UK? Apart from debates over the role of public vs. private education and over the cost of education, the most recent is a debate over the portion of time a professor spends doing research vs. teaching, with the presumption of some being that research takes time away from teaching. The assumption seems to be that universities are all about teaching and that research can sometimes (always?) get in the way. Continue reading

Follow the Money

The challenges that a liberal arts education faces in today’s environment became apparent to me in a new way this week. I noticed for the first time a television ad for a for-profit college that features a young man explicitly asserting that he did not gain job skills in college, so now he is training at this for-profit educational company. Beyond the ideological challenges that public institutions face in today’s climate, a clear monetary incentive exists for some to question the relevance of what happens in liberal arts institutions. The combination of for-profit educational institutions, online education, and the business model for public education together heighten the need for clear articulations of the relevance of fields that do not have simple answers to the employability debate.

Assessing Assessment

Does the move toward assessment provide support for the Humanities and Social Sciences or threaten them? Cary Nelson, the final speaker in our series on the Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences, published a provocative essay in which he described the move towards assessment as a threat to the “fierce humanities,” which he describes as “teaching that seeks not merely learning, but unlearning, that seeks to unsettle knowledge and assumptions in ways more fundamental than any exam can or should test.” Continue reading

Assessments: To Embrace or Resist?

In what fields do students learn the most? The traditional liberal arts demonstrate the highest gain in student ability, according to data from the 2007 College Learning Assessment test, with the natural sciences and math scoring slightly higher than the humanities and social sciences. Matthew Yglesias argued in a blog post last month, in the wake of the UVa debacle, that recent attacks on the liberal arts as being of little value are misplaced (reproducing a chart from Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (U of Chicago Press, 2011)). As this assessment data suggests, the humanities and social sciences, along with the natural sciences and mathematics, provide real educational value for students. Continue reading

Relevance of Research for Teaching

As the posts earlier this week emphasize, research in the Humanities and Social Sciences have improved our ability to analyze society and operate within it. Highlighting more examples of these contributions from Humanities and Social Science scholars is important in detailing the relevance of these fields today. However, another related benefit of research is its contribution to our teaching. Continue reading

Engaging the Employability Debate

When engaging in the employability debate (which is problematic in its own right), many departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences need to challenge what Gregory Alles calls the “narrow managerial mentality,” the assumption that qualifying for a career requires an undergraduate degree in the field of one’s career. In raising this issue, Alles distinguishes between careers that require “a high percentage of non-transferable ‘hard skills’” and careers that “require the acquisition of a larger percentage of highly transferable ‘soft skills’ and a knowledge base that has both breadth and depth. Most of the specific skills that are needed can be learned on the job, indeed, are probably best learned there” (Religion [2011] 41:2, 219-220). Continue reading