Why we need to think about PhDs & the job pseudo-market

This article about Fort Hays State University’s decision to outsource gen ed courses is frustrating an harbinger of doom.  According to the reporter, “the school will accept credits from a private company that runs introductory courses in subjects such as economics and English composition — listing them on transcripts under the Fort Hays name.”  I was especially disappointed to see Carol Twigg, of the National Center for Academic Transformation, essentially endorse the model.  I’ve been to an NCAT conference, and know that they propose using a variety of different classroom structures–hybrid, face-to-face, and fully online–as ways of addressing courses with high DFW (drop/fail/withdraw) rates.  But this goes too far.

A few thoughts:

  • First, this can’t possibly be legit from an accreditation perspective.  If the courses really are indistinguishable on the transcript, then I hope that Fort Hays loses its accreditation.
  • The MLA, 4Cs, AAUP, and AFT need to condemn this.
  • That said, this will be awkward to do because the R-1 university system has for so long relied upon graduate and contingent labor to do the heavy lifting in gen ed courses.  This needs to be rethought.
  • Relatedly, perhaps stories like this will get faculty members to pay attention to the “job market” more seriously.  Who is staffing companies like StraighterLine?  If it’s ABDs and unemployable PhDs . . . well, fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
  • I would also hope that this is an opportunity for faculty to think about two related problems: self-governance, and the role of faculty at the university.  A full-throated defense of academic life as interweaving teaching, service, and research is absolutely necessary–but such a defense is only credible precisely to the extent such interweaving is both demonstrable and demonstrably useful
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