Monday, August 31, 2009

The Precarious Lives of Politically Incorrect Adjuncts

A professor without tenure discovers that even the teaching of basic English is driven by political correctness

I’m an adjunct English professor. When the subject of adjunct faculty comes up, the predictable calls for unionization and “social justice” are often voiced by my tenured colleagues enjoying light teaching loads and by administrators enjoying comfortable salaries overseeing “multicultural” programs. But I know that I would not be among their intended beneficiaries were they made aware of my political views.

It’s not that I sought to be political when I returned to school in the 1990s to earn my Ph.D. I soon discovered, however, that political neutrality—even in literary studies—is suspect. In the academic world, the belief that great literature conveys universal, timeless themes is generally taken as evidence of an imperialistic outlook. The same holds for history, where the reliance on factual evidence and focus on major events are deemed offensive to women and those from non-Western cultures.

My fellow graduate students tailored their programs for the job market: studying African-American and gay writers, and applying the trendy postmodern, deconstructivist literary theories. Since 2002, when I earned my Ph.D. in English, the field has gotten even stranger, with such additions to the ideological postcolonial, African-American, and critical theory courses as “fat studies” and “trauma studies.” An upperclassman can enroll in “Introduction to Visual Rhetoric”—and then presumably in “Advanced Visual Rhetoric.” But how does my study of Plato and Cicero prepare me to teach these classes?

I am considered qualified to teach freshman composition, though. My experience of being called at 4:50 p.m. on a Friday and asked to be on campus at 8:30 a.m. on Monday to fill out the application and teach two classes that morning is not that unusual. At least it’s one way to avoid the scrutiny of my curriculum vitae.

Some of my teaching is done at a community college. Even there, however, one must accept the prevailing ideology, as I discovered during a job interview.

After my teaching demonstration on a nuts-and-bolts aspect of freshman composition (semicolons), the committee chair (a black female who chaired a committee that was all-female, except for one openly gay man), asked how I addressed the multicultural needs of the student body. I mentioned Zora Neale Hurston, the black and decidedly non-political author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, as someone I like to have students read. Apparently, it wasn’t a good enough response.

Although I did not get the position, I was encouraged to apply again. To put my cv over the edge, I suppose I should attend the recommended online and Saturday teacher development workshops and publish papers on multicultural pedagogy.

I certainly could not, however, tout my writing in publications like the Weekly Standard, Pajamas Media, and Townhall, even though they might inspire student writers. Some of my colleagues openly brag about being published in the leftist magazine The Nation or having worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. That’s perfectly safe, but I no longer list my academic affiliations under my byline. Once I was told that I was no longer “needed” at a school after readers of my columns wrote laudatory letters to the department chair.

Here’s another illustrative case. A colleague who started at a small college as an adjunct was eventually hired on a one-year basis and told he’d be the first in line when a full-time position opened. Then he was asked to submit his application, but was later told that the position now required a “gender historian.” He was not even interviewed, despite having published a book and having received glowing student evaluations. History major “groupies” circulated petitions when they learned that his contract was not being renewed—to no avail. He just didn’t have the right political orientation. Excellent teaching and research didn’t matter.

The sad fact is that history majors, after taking the mandatory gender history class, will be taught from that same radical perspective in their other history classes. These kinds of students probably will seek other majors. I doubt I would have continued my graduate studies had I not been able to select the traditional classes of older professors, who have since retired or died.

And even at the community college level where we have to explain the difference between a noun and a verb, we have no choice in textbooks. One I currently use includes a story by Richard Wright from his communist period (which Zora Neale Hurston called “communist propaganda,” I tell my students). The introduction does not mention Wright’s repudiation of communism later. The grammar handbook uses Alice Walker’s prose as examples of elegant sentences, and the words of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld as logical fallacies. At another low-tier state university we were ordered to put on our syllabi that the course had the objective of gaining “an understanding of race, class, and gender.”

I think what happened a generation ago was that conservative humanities professors failed in challenging the ideology of the radicals—especially the females—who demanded entrance. During my one-year stint as a full-time faculty member I watched a tenured Shakespeare professor voice no objection to the suggestion that a course include Tupac Shakur’s lyrics as poetry.

Or, more generously, the conservative gatekeepers assumed that the radicals demanding entrance would apply the same rules of open-mindedness, objective inquiry, and fair play they did. We now know otherwise.

The colonization of American higher education by the left is remarkably thorough. From the elite universities to the lowest-ranked schools, the deck is stacked in favor of those who want to turn everything from semicolons to Shakespeare into an ideological exercise. On occasion, dissidents like myself can sneak in the back door, but we are in a precarious position.


How British universities fail the poor

By David Davis

You would have to have had a heart of stone these past few days not to have shared the joy in the eyes and voices of all those young men and women celebrating their GCSE and A-level results. It was a proper reaction to the success engendered by their years of hard work and their optimism about a bright future.

Yet behind the celebration of the glittering prizes, there is a darker story to be told. This story is that of an education system designed to create opportunity for all which, in fact, reinforces the class divide in our society. The symptoms are all there for anyone with eyes to see. One in six of our young people is not in school, college or work. Many of them are from poor homes, often with an unemployed head of the household.

Schools in poorer areas are dropping tough subjects - physics, mathematics, history and geography - in favour of the 'softer' subjects such as information and communication technology (ICT) or media studies, in the hope that weaker candidates will do better in these easier topics and prop up the school's position in the league tables.

If this were not bad enough, there are signs that this serial failure by our education system to help kids from poor backgrounds extends into the university sector. About 20 years ago, in a fit of misguided egalitarianism, the then Conservative government abolished distinctions in higher education between universities and polytechnics. Of course, no stroke of the pen could abolish distinctions in performance between them. Indeed, there is some evidence that this action turned some first-class polytechnics into second-class universities. This distinction in quality of education still exists but it is now hidden by the names. Indeed, it is likely that Labour's massive expansion in higher education has made the poor performance of the weakest colleges worse, not better.

Does it matter? Surely a degree is a degree, and any degree is a stepping stone to a professional career. Well, that is certainly true up to a point. Too many professions today brag about being 'graduate only', as if excluding the bright youngsters who could not afford university was some sort of virtue. But there is a harder truth hidden here. Going to university is no longer free.

When I went to university at Warwick, most of my contemporaries had grants, which were supplemented by parental contributions. And, in an era of full employment, there was part-time work and holiday work to be had. Many of my friends got their first experience of real-life earning money on building sites or delivering Christmas mail or working behind a bar. We generally had no debt when we qualified. None of this is true today.

One report out last week predicted that students would leave university with an average debt of £24,000. Poorer students, without wealthy parents to subsidise them, will probably have even bigger loans. Even that underestimates the real cost of university. If you add in all the costs, from tuition fees to the foregone income students would have had in a job for those three years, the real cost of a degree is £45,000.

For most students, it is still a good deal. They earn enough in their career to make up for the costs and lost income. But this is not true for all graduates. For graduates of Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics and other top universities, their starting salaries will average between £23,000 and £27,000. Their take-home pay will be up to £9,000 more than that of the average 21-year-old.

This means that for those graduates, typically middle class and mostly the products of independent schools and grammars, their investment in university could deliver them a benefit of up to £100,000 in their career. At the other end of the scale, you will find universities whose typical graduate earns about £17,500. After tax, this is less than £2,000 more than the average 21-year-old earns. On any normal financial return, that never pays off the costs and earnings lost as a result of three years at college.

My university degree guaranteed a job that would pay well enough to justify the three-year investment. No such guarantee applies today. This summer, I surveyed many universities from the top to the bottom of the academic scale. About 20 were willing to give me information including graduate salaries for 2007-08. Of those, about five showed financial returns that were marginal at best and two showed graduate earnings as low as £17,500 a year.

Part of the reason for these poor average salaries was graduates going into 'non-graduate' jobs. Last year, the national average taking this path was more than 30 per cent. For poorer-performing universities, more than four out of ten graduates end up doing jobs they are overqualified for. All this is without counting those graduates who do not get jobs at all. One in ten graduates of the low-performing universities simply joined the ranks of the unemployed. It also ignores those students who start their degree course, incurring many of the costs, but never finish.

Again, the poorer-quality universities do much worse here. One in 11 students do not complete their course at the weaker universities, against only one in 50 at Oxford, and less than one in 100 at Cambridge.

In general, those universities that generate the lowest salaries also generate the highest unemployment figures and the highest drop-out rates. For students attending these institutions, the risks are high, the rewards are low and the costs are no less.

For most young people going to university this year, the experience will be life-enhancing in every way. It will broaden minds, elevate aspirations and open up opportunities that they never had before. But for that significant minority it will be a financial cul-de-sac and they'll spend their 20s enmeshed in debt, unable to get on the housing ladder and struggling to create a career.

We owe these young people a rather more honest perspective of their opportunities than we are giving them now. The Government should publish immediately a league table showing every university's graduate salaries, employment and drop-out rates, and proportions of graduates in non-graduate jobs. Then, at least, we can be sure that, in the struggle for scarce places that will take place during the next few weeks, school-leavers will not be disappointed because they make their most important career choice on what may turn out to be a false prospectus.


Australia: Schoolboy beaten to death as teachers look on

Teachers run grave legal risks if they touch a student -- courtesy of Leftist "compassion" and shrieks about "child abuse"

A SCHOOLBOY squabble during morning recess escalated into a brawl that has left a 15-year-old NSW schoolboy dead. Detectives and forensic specialists descended on Mullumbimby High School in northern NSW and declared the playground a crime scene after Jai Morcom was pronounced dead in hospital on the Gold Coast yesterday.

The Year 9 student suffered massive head injuries in the fight, which began with petty bickering shortly after 11am during "little lunch'' on Friday, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

Jai was transferred from Mullumbimby Hospital to Gold Coast Hospital's intensive care unit, where he was placed on life support. He died yesterday morning, 24 hours after the brawl.

His distraught mother Kim last night said: "You don't send your kids to school thinking they're going to die. "Jai was just a gentle little guy. He wasn't a fighter.'' Jai's older brother, Mayo, flew home on Friday night from the NSW ski-fields where he works, to join his devastated parents and sisters, Kyra, 26, and Jade, 22.

A Year 9 student said the fight was between two school gangs. The student said: "One of the gangs stole a seat from our eating area. We stole it back and it turned into an all-out brawl (and) the teachers did nothing''.

The student alleged Jai had been beaten to a pulp and ``it was really scary and intense. It was completely out of control''. A school nurse gave first aid until paramedics arrived, but witnesses said Jai was frothing at the mouth and non-responsive.

Forensic detectives, NSW and Queensland police have been called in to investigate and are preparing a brief for the coroner. A Year 9 classmate, who asked not to be named, said the two groups involved in the fight were the "emos'' and the "footy heads''. "Someone took someone else's table ... Jai was just walking through and the Year 11s just threw him,''she said. "We saw him on the ground and it was horrible. They just ran over the top of him when he was down and kept kicking him.''

Police feared revenge attacks. One student told Ten News last night: "This other kid's going to get killed.''

Tweed-Byron duty officer, Inspector Owen King, said there were several versions of how the incident unfolded and all would be investigated. One was that Jai may have felt unwell and was questioned by a teacher before recess because he did not appear to be himself. [Coverup coming!] "There are a number of conflicting versions and we're not going to speculate,'' Insp King said. ``That will be part of the investigation. "We need to determine exactly what happened. It was recess time, the playground was full.''

There was no CCTV footage, nor had any student filmed the fight on a mobile phone, he said. School liaison police would join councillors on campus tomorrow, he said, describing the incident as tragic and sad.

One Year 12 witness told The Gold Coast Bulletin Jai wasn't fully involved in the fight at the beginning. "He was shoved up against a brick wall near the girls' toilets by his throat. It was pretty rough then started to get more serious. "Someone spat on someone, then they just went psycho and started punching and kicking him. "All these boys came in and they were just dominating him. Then he fell and hit his head. "No one realised he had been knocked out and everyone kept kicking and punching him still.''

Education Department counsellors will attend tomorrow. "We are deeply shocked by the tragic situation that has occurred,'' a spokeswoman said. "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the student at this difficult time. Additional support, including counselling, is being provided to staff and students.''

Mullumbimby High School has about 920 students and 75 teachers, and an anti-bullying policy.


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