of fish and ponds

I had the good fortune to read this essay by someone who is currently teaching at my Alma Mater. It resonates with me, because it points to a couple of flaws in the current system of training college professors.

First of all, in what is supposed to be the great equalizer, we still privilege a very narrow few universities and colleges over all others. A certain amount of that is understandable, as places like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford et al have access to means of getting better labs/buildings/resources, funding for grad students, etc. Still, I would put my MSU education – especially in my major – up against anyone, anywhere, anytime. I might not be able to match them class for class or skill for skill, but it is precisely that experience which has allowed me to succeed. When we say, “Oh, you only teach at a regional state university or a small liberal arts college or a community college,” we are, in effect, saying those are not real institutions of higher education. This is grossly unfair to the students and to the faculty.

Secondly, our PhD programs are guilty of this (arguably more than anyone else). What does a PhD program do, in essence? It gives you the skills to be a researcher at a research university. Most PhD programs do nothing to prepare you to be a faculty member at an institution other than a research university. This does a huge disservice to graduate students, as there are only so many research university positions out there; it further does a huge disservice to all the non-research universities out there. (To be fair, some PhD programs are trying to remedy this.)

Essentially, we do ourselves no favors when we marginalize professors like Dr. Skallerup-Bessette, anyone tenured or tenure-track at a non-research university, or those who are not on the tenure track and/or those who adjunct. When we say that they can be replaced by MOOCs, we are saying, “You don’t count as an academic.” Folks, that’s most of us.



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