Battlestar Academia

Okay. This isn't particularly subtle, but I though the "adjunct instructor-as-rebellious Cylon" conceit made it relevant to a few of the discussions that have occured on this blog in the past few weeks. That, and I liked the description of sinister robots wearing tweed and bow ties.

Things I liked about this piece? There are quite a few. I think that more tenured and tenure-track faculty need to pay attention to the exploitation of instructors who don't have the protection of tenure. It's not just because I'm married to one, or blog with two others-- the exploitation of instructors and adjuncts is bad for the entire institution. As my co-blogger Amy pointed out last week, "I think you can take the best tenure-track professor out there (as far as teaching quality), and give him a 5/5 of comp, and you can just watch his effectiveness plummet. Especially if you take away his office and his copier privileges. Especially if you dock him 10k or so in pay." So even if you can't bring yourself to care about people working their asses off just to-- in many cases-- live below the poverty line, the resulting effect on efficiency should frighten even the most coldhearted of Republican legislators.

I've mentioned this before, I think, but it bears repeating-- the fact that I have the protection of a tenure-track job has as least as much to do with good luck and fortunate timing as any intellectual qualifications on my part (in fact, I've said repeatedly-- and sincerely-- that Emily is much smarter than I am; those of you who have been reading our blog posts these past few months probably understand what I'm saying). I was wrapping up my PhD work and getting my first publications in 2005-- that fall, there were dozens of job listings for creative nonfiction egoists-- er, essayists. There hasn't been another year like that since, and there likely won't be one again any time soon. So while most of my friends from grad school who write fiction, poetry, or scholarship are just as good (if not better) than I am, the market is unable to give them the jobs they deserve.

Of course, this isn't to say that I don't deserve my own job-- I'm the cat's ass. I'm William fuckin' Bradley-- world's toughest essayist (now that Plimpton's dead). I've worked hard to get where I am. But I didn't work harder than a lot of the people who are now working for two-thirds my pay, teaching more classes for less respect. And if you ever catch me saying I did-- if you ever suspect that I'm becoming one of the "hypertenured of GPU," as the author of this Chronicle article put it-- please knock me to the floor and kick me in the head until I regain my senses.

Okay-- but what about the stuff I didn't like about the article? Well, I understand that it's satire, but I found the anxiety about technology to be just a bit extreme. Sure, it's hyperbole, but I think the notion that-- someday-- student-customers will give up books and paper in order for the latest device that downloads edutatinment directly into their microchip-studded brains bears no relation to our current situation. I don't want to be misunderstood-- I know it's deliberately over-the-top-- but I don't think satire's effective if it's completely removed from reality; there needs to be some kernel of observable, resonant truth to be found in the idea (for example, the English really were indifferent to the suffering of the Irish peasants, so why not tell them to eat their own babies?). The resonant truth in this article, if I understand it correctly, is that technology is playing (an often detrimental) role in the classroom. Well... okay. But it's also played an extremely useful role, too-- I've created a blog for my students to visit to study creative nonfiction outside of class; my students now use PowerPoint to give more detailed and dynamic presentations; I've been able to share audio and video recordings of authors reading their own work; my students and I can communicate much more effectively outside of class (should the need arise). Yeah, cell phones and laptops in class are annoying-- and I think I'm about to include a note on "Technology" in my spring syllabuses in order to discourage my students from even bringing these things to class-- but I think it's important to keep in mind how useful technology can be even in a Humanities classroom. In fact, I guess my problem really comes from the fact that I think technology has-- for the most part-- improved education in the past ten years, whereas this author seems to think that we should be concerned about technoligical advances in the classroom.

What bothers me more than anything else in this article is the notion that technology is making our students dumber, or less capable. While this may be true in some cases, I've found that the students in 2007 are just as smart-- if not smarter than-- the students in 1994, when I started college; man, you should've seen those nitrous-huffing, Milwaukee-best swilling cretins who lived on my campus, in my dorm, in my room. The fact that many of today's students already intutively know things that I learned in college-- basic hypertextual theory, for example-- also suggests that technology can-- and has-- made people smarter in many cases.

Still. I'm afraid I sound like I didn't enjoy the article. And I did-- otherwise, I wouldn't be writing about it. I find myself disagreeing with the author's pessimistic outlook, but it's at least given me a lot to think about. Which, I suppose, was the point.

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