Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Major choices

William Chace laments the decline in the "number" of students studying the humanities in this article, then goes on to diagnose why he believes it occurred. I disagree with him in a lot of places (although not all - he does recognize that the rise of the humanities was a 20th-century trend rather than the state of affairs since time immemorial). Most importantly, the "trend" he analyzes isn't a trend at all.

Let's begin with the statistics he leads with. He reports the percentage of students in various majors, but reasons, "The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically" (emphasis added). That's only true if the overall number of students remained the same - but it hasn't.

You can look up enrollment statistics in the Digest of Educational Statistics. The total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions for 2007 was 18,248,128. In 1967, it was 6,911,748. In other words, the number of students tripled.

If, according to his statistics (he doesn't cite the source), 7.6 percent of students were English majors 40 years ago, that equals 269,558 English majors. If today 3.9 percent of students are English majors, that's 711,677 English majors - a net increase of 442,119. These numbers, by the way, are for all students, including those in two-year institutions, which tend to be more vocationally focused. If we limit it to four-year colleges, the numbers are 5,398,986 for 1967 and 11,630,198 for 2007. That's 210,560 English majors growing to 453,578 in forty years. To be perfectly clear: The number of English majors at four-year institutions has more than doubled. The percentages in the other humanities disciplines he cites tell similar stories. Foreign languages and literature grew by 16,218; philosophy and religion by 32,831; history by 245,619.

Now if one wishes to lament that this probably means a decline in the relative power or growth of English departments, one would have a fair argument. But this is not the argument Chace makes.

Am I being picky? Maybe. But I expect an English professor to understand the importance of word choice.

The increase in enrollment also points out another major factor in the changing rate of majoring in humanities - the link between socio-economic status and major choice. Most of the increase in enrollment comes from students of lower SES whose parents didn't attend college. Davies and Guppy found in one of the first relevant studies a decade ago that "working-class students who have reached college are more likely to view their undergraduate education instrumentally as a route to upward mobility, and are more likely to enroll in lucrative fields that are of a relatively technical nature, such as engineering or business." Most of Chace's arguments are about English departments themselves; any major trend is due to seeing overworked, underpaid TAs and being turned off by the latest trends in scholarship. But major choice is in many ways more about the student and about socially stratified perceptions of what is an appropriate major than about the lived reality of the discipline.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health care branding

As a grad student, my health insurance provider is Gallagher Koster. That's what the printed materials and the website say, anyway. My card says UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, with further logos from Signature Health Alliance, Beech Street, and Medco. Payment notices in the mail come from Klais & Co.

Now Gallagher Koster announces we can get dental insurance through United HealthCare Dental. When you go to their website to look up providers, you have to choose a plan name, and none of them (as far as I can tell) are mine. At least, I've ruled out the ones that have "Arizona" and "Dallas" in their names.

You know, in most businesses, brand recognition is considered a highly desirable thing. How else will the customer know to request Acme products? I guess in businesses where your customers hate you, they want to make sure they don't know your name.


University of San Francisco: Assistant/Associate Professor, Organization and Leadership.

Document Analysis: New England’s First Fruits

I don't usually post my homework on here, but we recently had to analyze documents for my historical sociology course, and I thought my assignment might be of interest to the two people reading this who do philanthropy.

New England’s First Fruits; In Respect, First of the Conversion of some, Conviction of divers, Preparation of sundry, 2.Of the progresse of Learning, in the Colledge at Cambridge in Massacusets Bay, With Divers other speciall Matters concerning that Countrey is a pamphlet published in 1643 for use by fundraising agents who were attempting to raise funds for various causes in the Massachusetts Bay colony.(1) While it states that it was composed by “New-England Men who are here present, and were eye or eare-witnesses of the same,”(2) the precise authorship is unknown; it has been included with the papers of John Eliot, a colonist active in attempting to convert Bay area Indians to Christianity (Clark, 2003). It was printed in London at the request of Hugh Peter and Thomas Weld after their first year in London was not entirely remunerative (Kellaway, 1961). In modern terms, this document served as a piece of public relations.

The document is divided into three sections. The first, “In respect of the Indians, &c,” tells of missionary work to the Indians, their thirst for the Gospel, and of the extension of this work that would be possible with further funding. The second, “In respect of the Colledge, and the proceedings of Learning therein,” covers the establishment and early financial gifts to Harvard College as well as the current state of the college, including its rules and curriculum (the latter in Latin). The third section, which is not divided from the second by any heading or preamble, purports to give facts about life in New England and answers critical questions, with an eye toward proving the wholesomeness of the place and dispelling stories about poor soil, cold weather, weakness of colonial character, out-migration, and the likelihood of wanting clothes from England in the future. The rest of this analysis focuses on the second portion, which is regularly cited as the first example of fundraising for higher education in the United States. For example, according to one fundraising expert, “The first recorded instance of fundraising in the colonies was in 1643, when Harvard College conducted the first fundraising drive” (Lindahl, 2010, p. 73). Another more precise statement of its import as a bracket is an encyclopedia entry indicating that “the first systematic fund-raising appeal to raise money for an American institution was probably that for Harvard College” (Burlingame, 2004).

Given that the pamphlet was produced as a public relations product for fundraisers, certain biases are to be expected and were most likely not unconscious. Fundraisers then as now walked the line between presenting the object of philanthropy as a healthy, going concern worthy of funds, and as a struggling entity that that requires aid. Thus we read that “the Edifice is very fair and comely within and without” and the president is “a learned conscionable and industrious man.” In fact, what work is left for further donors is never explicitly stated. Perhaps this is the reason it “made little impression upon potential benefactors” (Kellaway, 1961, p. 10), or perhaps the style of the time was to leave “the ask” up to the fundraising agents. Other biases are due less to the stylistic conventions of the genre than to beliefs held in common by the English and their colonists. The Indians are represented as sincerely desiring to convert to Christianity (and as doing so out of a desire for salvation); Christianity is assumed to require English customs, including attire; the colonial seizure of North America is claimed to be “free and faire” rather than “with violence and intrusion.” While no instrument yet devised allows us to see with certainty the desires of the deceased, contemporaneous documents such as diaries, letters, and government and church records may tell us to what extent Indians embraced English ways and establish the degree of violence in this instance of colonization. Still, the preponderance of these documents originate with the colonists, and therefore tell only one side of the story. Similarly, the college is represented as a flourishing enterprise in First Fruits, while in fact operations had been temporarily suspended due to a lack of funds. Knowing this, even the segments that detail the college’s rules and the questions put to candidates for degrees are likely to represent ideals rather than actual practice. Students did likely study the trivium and ethics; it is less likely that all graduates lived lives as godly as the rules hope. Omitted altogether are the number of students at the grammar school and the college, how many were dismissed or left of their own accord, any details on tutors beyond President Dunster – any information that might suggest Harvard was less than flourishing. There are, again, plenty of other records that may contradict this image, such as record of the Overseers, diaries and letters, records of legislative support, and Cambridge village records. The pamphlet, then, is best used by scholars as an example of public relations than as evidence of Indian-colonist relations or the state of Harvard College in 1643.

(1)This analysis is based upon two copies available through the Vanderbilt Library; one is a poor quality facsimile of the original available online, and the other is a reprint, retaining the original font and text ornaments but with new pagination.
(2)It is unclear, however, whether “the same” they were witnesses to was the conversion, etc. of the Indians, the progress of learning, and the diverse other special matters, or whether it was “the instant request of sundry Friends, who desire to be satisfied in these points.”

Photography of photography

Getting down
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I took this photo a little over a week ago at the end of a hike on the Wilderness Trail. My hike co-leader is preparing to take an "after" group photo.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Central Michigan University Tenure-track position. This is the first time I've seen a job that was open to someone in K-12 OR higher ed.

Monday, September 14, 2009


William & Mary: Assistant Professor in Higher Education.

Vanderbilt University: Three jobs, including one at the associate/full level in higher education. (People ask me, why don't you stay in Nashville after graduation? Because Vandy is the only game in town. Even if they hired their own (they don't), I can now point to this ad - the only hiring they'll do this year is not for an assistant professor.)

Friday, September 11, 2009


"A realistic plan and time line for a survival homestead."

Kind of cool, but wow - who among us has the skills needed to live this far off the grid? What I find depressing about this site is that each homestead is expected to be an entirely self-sustaining unit - a natural assumption, I suppose, for survivalists, but contrary to any human culture. This isn't just growing your own food and building your own house; if you want honey, you have to have your own bees, and I'm not sure where they expect to get clothes from once the world's stock of used clothing is gone, because then you have to have cotton or sheep, and spin and weave ... I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Frankly, even in primitive societies without division of labor, there is some specialization. One beekeeper for a few homesteads should suffice - I'm willing, by the way, to let you be the beekeeper. (The comments on this article quickly go into wackiness, so I can't really recommend reading that far.)

You may have seen one of a couple of articles lately on Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt down that was on a death spiral until a new mayor came in with his own vision for renewal. The town still has a long way to go, mind you. website shows off photography in all its glorious squalor and decay.

Really cool houses built (almost?) entirely out of recycled materials. Be sure to check out the slideshow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


With the job market gearing up again, I've been thinking about the recent graduates in my field and what they've chosen to do. In no particular order, my compadres include:
  • a researcher at a think tank in DC
  • an administrator in a higher ed advocacy group
  • institutional researchers (two)
  • a professor, not of higher ed, at a community college
  • professors, of higher ed, at flagship state schools (two)
  • an administrator for a denomination's higher ed board
  • a state higher ed coordinating board researcher

The thing is, as far as I know only one of the folks who is not a higher education professor even considered applying for faculty jobs. It's not that they wouldn't have been competitive, either. A few more interesting data points: All of the faculty members are single and childless. A couple of the women only considered jobs in their spouse's city of employment. Several women were adamant about wanting "a normal family life" or "a job that gets left at the office."

The thing is, in education there are a lot of other possible careers other than "professor." It's not like a PhD in philosophy. Still, I've been surprised by how many bright, promising graduate students are not considering or seriously pursuing the faculty role.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


University of Houston: Assistant/Associate Professor - Educational Psychology. For those of you not in the field, it's unusual for a higher education job to be in a department called educational psychology. Usually, it would be in an educational policy and leadership department, or maybe adult and lifelong learning, or occasionally at a center for higher education. Despite this nomenclature, the opening has little to do with psychology.

Job search supply and demand

Interesting article on hiring in political science. Lots of what is covered is similar to education. What struck me, though, was this:

Several chimed in to say that they agreed that it would be far more humane to such individuals to be honest after two years, rather than letting them face a long time in graduate school to be followed by potentially fruitless job searches. Graham Wilson of Boston University said that most programs have "moved away from the tough evaluation" after the second year of a doctoral program and that they should return to a frank discussion of potential at that point.

When I was applying to PhD programs, there were two programs I was most serious about. One is the kind of program they are discussing above. Recent graduates made it clear that they brought in more students than they intended to graduate and then sorted after arrival. The other is the program I am in now, which intends to graduate everyone it admits. It doesn't always work; students still choose to leave - or are counseled to leave, particularly after comprehensive exams. Still, I think the overall numbers would show a difference in attrition.

It surprises me, then, that the third option of being more selective up front wasn't discussed as an alternative. Do admissions committees just not think they have enough data to make valid predictions about success? Do they count on a minimum number of students (or TAs) for some reason?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rock Island State Park

In the gorge
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Oops! I thought I had posted this, but I didn't.

Last weekend we camped out at Rock Island State Park - the one in Tennessee, not the one in Illinois. The camping spots are nothing special, and there aren't any long hikes. (The longest one is Collins River Trail, which is three miles and not especially interesting.) However, it makes up for that in beauty.

This photo is from the Caney Fork Gorge trail. You start at the Twin Falls Overlook and take stairs down to the gorge. This photo was taken near the base of the stairs. From there, you head downstream in the river, hopping rocks and occasionally getting wet, until you get to the big waterfalls. At the falls you can swim and generally frolic. After the fact, someone told me there were a lot of snakes in the water, but we didn't notice any.

We also hiked the Eagle Trail, a short hike I've done before. It goes through attractive woods to end up at Blue Hole along the river. There are a lot of other things to do - boating, tennis, ping-pong, horseshoes - we went swimming on the swim beach, and a couple of friends took their kayaks out.

The park proved to be the perfect place to relax for the weekend. If I wanted to do hardcore hiking, there are other places I'd recommend over it - Frozen Head would head up the list - but Rock Island is nice for relaxing or keeping a family with diverse interests happy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The job season has now begun

University of Missouri: Assistant, associate, or full professor with expertise in higher education leadership and/or policy.