Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One in Three Don't Tune into Trimmed News Outlets

I admit, I do not pay for news online. Some weekends, though, I do buy two newspapers — they have different ad inserts and the coupons pay for themselves several times over.
1 in 3 don't tune into trimmed news outlets: -- Local TV stations are a top news source for Americans, but viewership fell in every key time slot last year. Local affiliates of the four major broadcast networks lost, on average, about 6% of viewers. The report questioned the strategy of steering more of the newsroom budget to sports, weather and traffic when such content is readily available online.

-- About a third of the 1,380 daily newspapers now charge or plan to charge readers for stories on their websites, somewhat offsetting the loss in advertising revenue. The New York Times' circulation revenue, including its website, exceeds its advertising sales. Small and midsize papers "are seeing success as well," the report says.

-- Cable stations are turning to cheaper ways of creating content, inviting pundits to fill airtime. CNN cut its prime-time story packages and live event coverage by about half between 2007 and 2012. Opinion filled 85% of MSNBC's newshole for the days studied. On Fox News, opinion accounted for 55% of its content.
Newspapers fell first, now local news. Cable news is also starting to lose audience — and cable rightfully deserves to lose most of its viewership. When you don't deliver the "news" you cannot call yourself a journalistic enterprise.

When I buy newspapers on the weekend, I do not buy the local paper, the one paper published in my county, in a town only minutes from our house. I purchase and read the two "Pittsburgh" papers. Why? Because they have actual news… and more than one viewpoint on the editorial pages.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Working-Class as Object of Study

At the Conference on College Composition and Communication (a.k.a. 4Cs), meeting in Las Vegas this year, there is a special interest group (SIG) dedicated to "Working-Class Culture and Pedagogy." The invitation to join is extended to instructors who are… "from a working-class background yourself, teach working-class students, or plain have an interest in class."

I find this oddly insulting, while I am an admitted defender of my "working-class roots." I know from experience that the questions asked at such gatherings are condescending, along the "What's the matter with Kansas?" line of thought. As some point, the professoriate that has risen beyond the working-class starts to view their former community as "the other" — a group with serious flaws.

The SIG announcement explains, "We will be talking about projects, courses, and assignments about working-class culture."

Too often we drift towards, "Those poor, misinformed, misguided, manipulated working-class people! If only we could help them see the light." And, since many of us first-generation professors come from the middle and lower-middle classes, we believe we are well positioned to "guide" our lost community.

To cling to those middle-class values, to sometimes consider them superior to what I observe in the rarefied world of academia, has been noted as a flaw — a failure to demonstrate the approved version of "critical thinking" that is strangely homogenous among the elites.

I realize that my colleagues don't view "middle-class studies" as an insult. They view it as they might all the various "studies" within universities. The desire is to preserve and protect, but consider how this also objectifies the working-class. It infantilizes the working-class.

What is "working-class" to the academics of this SIG? Is working-class defined by income? By type of work? By some other socioeconomic variables? Will this be a celebration or mockery of the blue-collar men and women who keep this country (and the world) functioning?

Yesterday, my wife and I moved a half-pallet of bricks. We do whatever physical work we can ourselves. Does that make us "working-class" or simply hobbyists? Most farmers we know are in the "rich" (top quintile) of the United States, but they are working-class in the minds of academics. What are the divisions and why?

Americans at the top of the wealth pyramid have a habit of assuming the symbols of the working class. Jeans, crafted as durable clothing for miners and cowboys, became designer fashion. Jazz, the music of working-class African-Americans, is now the music of university and public radio stations. Shakespeare's plays and Mozart's music, both meant for the masses, are performed for the black-tie set. Even hobbies that link the rich and poor are different when you pursue them by choice — not financial necessity.

When you study any group, you risk further removing yourself from that group. You have to admit that studying a group to which you did (or do) belong changes your view of the group and yourself. What you study and perceive as important reflect biases, too. What if you dismiss aspects of a culture that are actually the very core of the community? What if you fail to understand a culture because your perspective is different? Every anthropologist knows that you can only report observations from a biased, limited vantage point.

Much more separates us than class. That fact exposes the limits of a class-centric perspective.
Are You Living in an Elitist Bubble? Take the Quiz 
by DANIEL HONAN MARCH 8, 2013, 12:00 AM
My results:
On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 9 and 12. 
In other words, even if you're part of the new upper class, you've had a lot of exposure to the rest of America.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Essay on impact of being first generation college grad when one joins an academic department | Inside Higher Ed

I am only an acquaintance of David Beard, and I'll admit we don't share a general perspective on politics or life. I, too, am a "first-generation" faculty, first-generation college student, first-generation graduate student, et cetera. I remain much closer to my family and the community from which I came than to the beliefs or perspectives of the university faculty where I have studied and worked.

A bit of Beard's introduction and a link to the entire essay:
First-Generation Faculty
March 4, 2013 - 3:00am
By David Beard

I've been reflecting on my spectacularly unsuccessful ethos as a professional within my department.

I write "within my department" because I think that the ethos that carries me far enough in the field is one I'm thinking doesn't work well in a departmental context. And to be clear, I've been a faculty member in two departments, so I'm not complaining about my department.

A colleague-friend once pointed out that I'm basically a puppy dog in my local professional interactions -- eager to be liked. I think there's a limited accuracy to that statement, so I'll accept it but add a little nuance. My attitude is not a desire to be liked; rather, it's a desire not to be disliked, which stems from being a first-generation college student.

Context: Like many of my colleagues and friends in rhetorical studies, I was a first-gen student. I am only the fifth person in my entire family to make it past middle school. And like a lot of first-gen kids, I experienced substantial dislocation from my family. As a kid, my great-grandparents and my grandparents and my great-aunt lived together in a three-bedroom house. Some were retired, some worked part-time, and some did the early shift, the end result being that we always were home together by 4 p.m., in time for late afternoon game shows and dinner by 4:30. (It was years before I learned that most people eat after 5 p.m..)


I think I have discovered three things that I would share with an academic son or daughter, were I to have one:

1. Transparency doesn't work with people who presume that other people are not transparent.

2. Maybe "family will relate to you consistently because they know who and where you are," but so will colleagues, and they will be able to outthink you all the time because you are on their map and they are not on yours.

3. Expertise is never recognized locally, whether you argue from it or not. Expertise is often recognized across the discipline, but only sometimes within the department.

Read more:
Essay on impact of being first generation college grad when one joins an academic department | Inside Higher Ed
I have admitted on this blog and elsewhere that I find I "fit" much better outside the humanities than within. My economic views ("freshwater" with an Austrian School bias), my political views, and how I have interpreted my life experiences do not align with many in the humanities. Having been poor, having lost everything, living daily life with disabilities, and so forth, I feel quite confident when I reject what I view as naïve idealism and group-think within academia.

Maybe my mistake was going back to graduate school after a life in business and years of volunteering with various groups. By the years of  36 to 42, when I completed my master's and doctorate degrees, you have established a worldview. Yes, it continues to evolve, but I don't understand how you can work in the non-academic setting and trust large organizations, private or public, to do the "right" thing.

Many people I've met in the humanities, including those within rhetoric, composition, and communication, have deeply held beliefs — and not always enough job or business experience to understand why those beliefs might not work for students preparing for non-academic paths in life. Dare to ask some questions of the academic community, and you will be met with disdain. (Though some call it "pity," it is disdain.)

Think about what Beard has written. Academics, at least in some disciplines, assume all people are hiding something. They don't believe in transparency. They've been so stuck in the notions of "persona" and "ethos" that authenticity seems impossible. You can't possibly be who you are all the time — there are many "yous" each tailored to an audience. What a way to go through life. Maybe accurate, since we do play to audiences, but can we be authentic "bits" of ourselves? I certainly believe so.

I don't care to be "outthought" by colleagues playing stupid games. I've found academia to be anything but cooperative and supportive. Forget collaboration — we all want to get our articles and books published so we can earn tenure! And our articles will complain about the horrible nature of those competitive capitalists. Yes, you try to figure out why the most competitive, cut-throat places I've worked are universities — where many faculty gripe about the competitive nature of the business world. I'm sorry, but I've had competitors treat me much better than colleagues. That's something I hope changes, but the "rules of the game" in academia seem to contradict the beliefs expressed by scholars.

As for being an expert or not in anything, I'm back to letting the free market decide. As I posted recently, the fact rhetoricians aren't able to persuade people of their value is disheartening. I'd sure like to believe I can sell the value of better communication to students, parents, and employers. But, I also don't speak in the language (code, or jargon) of my discipline. I speak like an entrepreneur and think like an entrepreneur.

So, I am more like my family. I don't trust academics to be realistic or all that wise outside their narrow specialties. I trust some fields much more than I trust others. Give me a STEM expert any day — I'll generally trust, respect, and be wowed by the science and tech people. Admittedly, I'm not impressed by my own field — I respect my colleagues, but I'm seldom "impressed" by them in the way I'm impressed by a quantum physicist or infectious disease expert.

Why am I not a scientist or engineer? Because I want to help future scientists, engineers, programmers, and business people communicate more effectively. I want to broaden the experiences of the "tech" people, and help them communicate with the majority of people who are not experts in the hard sciences and applied tech fields. I happen to believe my goal is quite respectable, and that's sufficient for me.

I'm not going to be embraced by most in my field. I already know that my departments did not embrace me. I've accepted that I'm an outsider within my discipline. And that's just the way it is. Maybe that is because I'm first-generation, and maybe it is because I took a different path into academia. Whatever the reason, I'm not going to change to make my colleagues like me.

Agree or not on some issues, I will definitely defend David Beard and all other professors who want to be true to themselves and their origins.

What I fear is that Beard and others start to see themselves as somehow "better" than the "uneducated" family members that made our journeys possible. We can claim to always love and be loved by family, but what happens when we start to think of them as not part of our culture? Personally, I prefer the culture of my family (generally) over that I've encountered in some academic departments.

I should never have to remind myself that a Ph.D. simply means I spent a lot of years in school. It doesn't mean I am smarter or wiser than people without advanced degrees. If anything, I've found that the smartest men and women I know don't have credentials… they have experiences.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Job Market Realities

One of the issues I've been pondering is what happens to those of us unable to secure a TT post, either initially or after taking the risk of leaving a junior position.

I've met a great many adjuncts with stellar credentials, forever dreaming of a return to the tenure track. Sadly, we know the odds of such moves are slim, even within an institution. When I listened to one Ph.D (from an elite R1) telling a group she had worked non-TT for five years but knew she'd find a TT post, I admit to feeling discouraged. She had conference papers, articles, and had received teaching awards. But, she was still an adjunct.

I admit, I would rather adjunct than not teach at all — but there are also economic realities.

As you interview great candidates, something I hope everyone considers is what will become of the field as we are forced to turn away great teachers, scholars, and advocates. We are preparing a large community of scholars, yet some of them are going to be forced to take other paths. Others will discover another path is simply best for them, which is okay, too.

How should we address the issue of "over-supply" that has persisted for at least two decades? When I entered graduate school, I knew the odds were against me. Like most students, though, I assumed I would be among the fortunate few — you have to have that confidence to enter a doctoral program.

Thankfully, I did get hired and I continue to love teaching. I'm also refining my research interests and working on publications. But, "What if?" is a concern. Returning to private or public industry is okay with me, but it wasn't the original plan.

Ideally, I am still a professor in the fall. But, this job market is frustrating.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Job Applications and Interviews Continue

I have had a few interviews, have a few more scheduled, and am continuing to submit applications for both academic and non-academic positions.

When my current academic funding ends in June, I do not want to be adrift. While I could continue freelance writing and consulting, having a steady source of income offers stability my wife and I appreciate. That stability does not mean I would stop writing or consulting (unless required to do so). If anything, it is easier to take side gigs when you don't feel like you must.

Because I am on the job market, I am not writing enough to meet my own goals. My writing is cover letters, teaching statements, and similar materials. I set aside my creative writing to chase after security.

I love teaching. If necessary, I will find work as an adjunct professor in the future, in addition to any non-academic position. Teaching means too much to me to walk away from it entirely. The ideal is to work as a professor full-time in a setting that respects divergent views and experiences.

Because I wasn't a good "fit" in an English department, I have applied to teach rhetoric and communication courses within STEM and business programs. I am a writer and editor who happens to be interested in the STEM disciplines. I know there are English programs that would embrace me — and maybe I will find such a place soon.

Still, one should have a Plan B and a Plan C. Maybe a D, E, and F are good to have, too.

Starting in March, I am going to spend several weeks focused on my computer programming skills. I was a good programmer, long ago, and I am certain that learning current tools would improve my marketability. Consider what that says about my degree, though. When recruiters call, it is my programming background that appeals to employers, not my academic credentials.

Whatever happens, I hope to have a clear direction by June.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Blog post asks whether nice academics finish last | Inside Higher Ed

I encourage you to read this article, and follow the links to the original blog posts and articles.

Blog post asks whether nice academics finish last | Inside Higher Ed

It's no secret that I have my own views on this matter. Academics do try to "prove themselves" to each other and the world at large. That goes back to my recent post about Whining Rhetoricians. There is a martyrdom complex (because we're not understood, we must be great) and more than a little hubris. Sorry, but I know plenty of people smarter and wiser than me, some with "only" high school diplomas, but plenty of real experiences.

The fact is that in academia you rise by critiquing (criticizing) others. Admittedly, I criticize my own field for its often self-absorbed political, social, and academic views. Again, I have written in the past of academics lacking a desire to understand different cultures within our own nation, while telling everyone we need to understand the world better.

I know that I am not going to have the unflinching support of some colleagues, simply because I don't agree with some of the leading "scholarship" in my field. (Too much of our academic literature is simply opinion and anecdote. Yes, there is a place such pieces, but they often dominate rhetoric and composition journals and conferences.)

My colleagues care a lot about their students and their disciplines. Unfortunately, too many of them teach collaboration in the classroom while demonstrating a competitive edginess (nastiness, meanness) that goes beyond what I have seen in private industry. When the "capitalists" are nicer than the left-leaning academics, maybe we should pause and ask what could be learned from industry?

Again, I am guilty of criticizing, too, but I hope my criticisms are a voice for a different approach to higher education. We need to accept other ideas, other theories, and even (gasp!) collaborate with colleagues with whom we have some disagreements. We should learn from each other.

Too bad that "stardom" in academia is based on loud, often minor, arguments. The style of academic journals exacerbates this perception. Again, that is a shame.