Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Pannapacker on academic woe

William Pannapacker will soon be leaving academia. He writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education about being “Tenured, Trapped, and Miserable in the Humanities”:

How many of us understood what we were embarking upon when we decided to become professors? How could we even grasp the accelerating rate of change in higher education: neoliberal managerial approaches; part-time, no-benefit, transient adjunct teaching; the uncapping of mandatory retirement and the graying of the profession; the withdrawal of state funding; the endless political attacks from all directions; the unsustainable increases in student debt; and, with all that, declining enrollments in any field that does not lead directly and obviously to employment?

Even now, in my experience, if you point out these trends, you risk being accused by students of “crushing their dreams” and by colleagues, in effect, of “disrupting the Ponzi.”
I would never have called myself trapped or miserable. (Tenured, yes!) But life in academia ain’t what it used to be, if indeed it ever was. Something I wrote to a colleague not long ago:
I think every day about how fortunate I am to be retired, and how fortunate I was to be in on many good years of English studies. Any of us who were in there beat some long odds, getting longer all the time.
[Pannapacker’s celebrated Chronicle piece “Remedial Civility Training” should be required reading in college. It’s back behind the Chronicle paywall, but you can read a long excerpt in this blog post. The whole piece is also here.]

comments: 2

Sean Crawford said...

I miss the world I never knew that Simone de Beauvoir describes where when her peers entered a (cafe?) in pairs, having their conversations-to-get-somewhere, other pairs, entering later, would stay separate. The manager was amazed they wouldn't all congregate together.

Say, I've noticed that if a small group conversation is interrupted, the conversation thread is lost, not resumed: As if people weren't keen to learn or get somewhere.

The flip side to Simone's student life, is that although her peers were intellectuals, and her boyfriend was Jean-Paul Sarte, she describes the majority of students as frivolous.

My degree was obtained in another ecosystem, in Canada, so maybe when I retire next year I will drive to the States, stop off in a university, and see for myself what things are like.

I might add that Canada too has to test new admissions to see if they have a high school level of composition. Recently it struck me that this testing started just a few years after the admission requirement for a second language was abolished. I wonder if there's a connection.

Michael Leddy said...

A second language is indeed the way many students learn (in a conscious way) something of the grammar of a first language. So many things contribute to the state of student writing — their reading (or lack of reading), emphasis on mechanical writing models (the five-paragraph essay), the extent to which grammar and usage are matters under discussion, what kind of feedback teachers give. It certainly doesn’t hurt to test the waters in/of a second language.