The Liberal Arts Are on Life Support

A couple of weeks ago, I was floating around two pitches. My usual place to publish is backed up with content, so I talked with alternative places. Topic A was quickly snapped up, so Topic B was put on the back burner. Between the Topic A article, research on a Topic Q for another venue, and multiple essays for a third outlet, I’m booked solid for the rest of the month. I have no idea how I’m going to Christmas shop or take care of other mom business this month.

I think I need to hire help, but that’s another blog post.

I’m still going to write about Topic B after the holidays, but I wish I was working on it right now, because it’s the hot topic suddenly. Topic B was about the death of the liberal arts majors.

This chart went viral yesterday.

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This chart came out of research done for the AHA conference, and shows a dramatic drop in the number of history majors since 2008. I could have told you that. Actually, I did tell several editors that just a couple of weeks ago.

(I probably shouldn’t be writing about this here, but – fuck it – I want to talk. Steve will yell at me later for being a big mouth.)

Alright, lots to pull apart here. First of all, 2008 was a huge turning point in the middle class mentality. People lost jobs. A few years later, Steve lost his job, just as my university job was ending. We were scared shitless. And so was everyone else around us. Our area’s prosperity – from contractors to accountants – is very tied to the fortunes of Wall Street. You didn’t have to be a broker to lose your job back then.

Secondly, the obvious. Nobody is majoring in history, English, and Philosophy anymore. Yeah, I could have told you that. My friends at small liberal arts colleges have been teaching empty classes for the past few years. Crickets. So, they’ve been reassigned to teaching freshman seminars or put into administration.

The liberal arts, at 90 percent of the colleges out there, are done. So, all that punditry about the commie college students and the liberal bias of faculty and the attack on free speech is just silly. Most students aren’t women’s studies majors at Wellesley. They are either business majors at a public college, or they’re hustling two jobs while taking a class at the local community college.

Third, let’s talk about majors. This is a taboo topic in academia, but I’m in a MOOD today, so here goes. Some majors are easy, others are medium, and some are hard. You are absolutely not allowed to say that in academic circles, but it’s the truth.

See that exercise science at the topic of that chart? And recreation and leisure studies? Those are the top of the list, because the chart is measuring the rate of change, not an actual number of majors. It doesn’t mean that most kids in college are exercise majors, but it shows that there has been a big uptick in those majors. You know why? (Oh God, I could get killed for saying this…) It’s for kids who ordinarily wouldn’t be going to college or were admitted and are floundering. It’s a way for the colleges to maintain their retention rates. Those majors are easy.

And those majors are a waste of time. Kids who receive majors in those fields, who lack a parent with deep pockets and connections to make sure they get their first job, end up at jobs that don’t require a BA. They end up behind the counter at rental car companies. It’s a terrible scam on those poor kids. I’ve talked with sociologists who study this.

Lastly, this is a very sad chart, because I love the liberal arts. I love Plato and Rousseau and Homer and Bronte and Shakespeare. My undergraduate years, where I roamed freely between art history and English and anthropology classes, were a brain-feast. I would take all those classes again tomorrow. I’m very sorry that the practical minded students (and their pushy parents) have walked away from greatness.

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Higher Ed Fraud or Caveat Emptor

For-profit colleges did not get much love during the Obama administration. Students who took out huge loans to attend schools like Corinthian College or Minnesota School of Business had their loans forgiven. Under the watch of Betsy DeVos, the department of education has been much less forgiving.

The NYT quotes one woman who took out huge loans to go to an art school.

“It’s just dream-crushing,” said Meaghan Bauer, who owes $45,000 for her time at the New England Institute of Art. The for-profit school, in Brookline, Mass., closed last year and was sued on fraud charges by the state attorney general in July.

This woman took out huge loans to go to an arts school and is shocked because she doesn’t have a job. Really?

Are students who get MFAs at schools like NYU or Rutgers and don’t find work, entitled to loan forgiveness, too? Why are there different rules for for-profit colleges and non-profit, but still cost a lot of money colleges?

How about all those PhDs who don’t have jobs? Can they sue, too?

I cool with that, as long as everyone benefits.

Frats, Beer, and In Loco Parentis

Last Wednesday night, Jonah and two of his housemates went to a frat party two blocks from their off campus house. His roommate, David (name changed), was a member of this fraternity. It’s a high end frat, according to Jonah, and one that he’s considering on pledging.

Everybody had a good time. They connected with friends that they hadn’t seen since last semester. There was a keg of cheap beer, but people weren’t totally smashed at that time. Jonah and his other roommate left early at around midnight, leaving David, a first generation kid whose dad is a pipe fitter from Philadelphia, with his fraternity brothers.

Around 2:00, Jonah was going to sleep and called David twice to see where he was. No answer. In morning, when he was bed was empty, they called him again. No answer.

By mid-afternoon, the housemates were stressed, so they tracked down his girlfriend through Instagram and heard that David had been in an accident on the way home.

It seems that David did come home, but slipped on the front stairs and fell on the back of head on the pavement. There’s a pool of blood about five feet from the stairs. He staggered around for a while, nobody know how long, before the cops found him and took him to the hospital.

He had four skull fractures and bleeding on the brain. At first, his brain was still swelling, and he couldn’t recognize his parents. By last night, he was eating food and his memory was returning. Still, he’s out for the semester with months of speech therapy, at the very least.

Did this happen because of booze or was it a freak accident? While Jonah insists the kid wasn’t smashed, he probably was. If I was the parent, I would have already employed an army of lawyers to wreck unholy vengeance on the university and fraternity. Weirdly, the cops and the university haven’t come by to talk with the kids. When we were there this weekend, I made Steve take pictures of the dried blood puddle, in case the parents should need it in the future.

Jonah was a hot mess, so he came home for the weekend where we babied him with special foods, hugs, and frequent lectures about responsibility, education, and the fragility of brains.

What should we do about fraternities?

 

Tom Wolfe on Graduate School

Very sorry about Tom Wolfe’s passing. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities.

Here’s what Wolfe said about going to grad school.

I had just spent five years in graduate school, a statement that may mean nothing to people who never served such a stretch; it is the explanation, nonetheless. I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase—”graduate school”—and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run, with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic over boil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.

Why Colleges Are Embracing the #NeverAgain Movement

As high-school students around the country organize in support of stronger gun-control legislation in the wake of the Parkland shooting, many are finding that, at the very least, one thing they don’t have to worry about is the possibility of disciplinary action hurting their chances of getting into college some day. Superintendents in some school districts have warned that students who participate will face disciplinary actions such as suspension. But over 250 college-admissions offices around the country have responded to these concerns, most of them with assurances that students’ activism will not hurt their chances at admission, even if their high schools do take disciplinary action.

Because college applicants must disclose whether they have ever been suspended from school or faced other disciplinary measures, many students have been concerned that colleges might rescind an acceptance or look unfavorably upon future applications. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), many member colleges have reported that large numbers of students have been calling admissions offices worried about the effect suspensions could have on their admissions prospects.

More here.

How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?

If there were a “10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most” list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they’re going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn’t for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at “random-ass meetings (RAM).” That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

More here

Why Are Students Still Paying So Much For Textbooks?

After settling into his dorm this past fall, John McGrath, a freshman at Rutgers University, took the campus shuttle to the school bookstore. He waited in line for 40 minutes clutching a list of four classes—including Microeconomics, Introduction to Calculus, and Expository Writing—and walked out later with an armful of books, some bundled with digital codes that he would use to access assignments on the publishers’ websites. He also exited the store with a bill for about $450.

McGrath, an accounting major, pays close attention to his expenditures. He had researched all the textbooks options—new, used, digital, loose-leaf, rental—and knew about the various online venues that compete with the campus bookstore for sales. His plan was to buy materials that he could later resell. But he was surprised to learn not only that he had to purchase digital codes for half of his classes, but also that those codes were often sold exclusively at the campus bookstore—and for a steep price.

More here.