28 October 2009

Weekend preview.

Man, it's Wednesday, and I'm jonesing for Saturday. The problem is, there literally aren't any good games. Penn State v. Northwestern. Ohio State v. New Mexico State. I won't even have the satisfaction of watching Notre Dame lose, as Washington State is probably the second worst team they'll play all season (and that includes their usually conveniently cushy run through the service academies). Probably the highest quality game will be Florida v. Georgia, but given Georgia's woes this season, it'll most likely be over by halftime.

Pretenders to the throne have little to fear this week. Cincy (8...WTF...8th ranked?) plays Syracuse, a team that continues to sink further into oblivion and should probably be stripped of D-1 status. TCU will have little trouble with UNLV. Boise State will blow out San Jose State. Speaking of TCU, their blowout win of then-16th ranked BYU only proved that BYU, which already had a loss to a very mediocre Florida State team, didn't belong anywhere near the rankings. Seriously, I don't know why the hell BYU gets ranked most years. Let's be serious...the Mountain West sucks, yet they clog up the rankings and the bowl games because the one or two teams that would be perennial doormats in real conferences feast on the perennial doormats of their conference...the doormats that everyone clamors to schedule for early season tune-ups or mid-season breathers.

We'll probably have to wait until 8 p.m., when USC v. Oregon and Texas v. OK State come on, in the only matchups of ranked teams. It'd be nice to see OK State lay one on Texas, but that'd be hoping for too much. Given that USC barely beat Notre Dame, the Ducks could win this one.

Anyway, this weekend will most likely be a very disappointing one, because it looks so very predictable.

27 October 2009

Please don't mind my public therapy...

I have been disappointed many times this season, my friends, at the blasted luck -- yes L U C K -- of the Irish, who continue to snap victory from the jaws of defeat. Yes, I could complain about the mysterious increase in yellow laundry flying when the Irish are down and driving, but who really cares? The win goes in the books (although I did take some solace that the refs, despite their best efforts, were unable to award ND the win in their contest against USC). Now the Irish, who should be 2-5, are 5-2.


Cheating Charlie has the Irish ranked, even if at 23, but I look forward to those sweet, sweet words: "Dropped from rankings..."

Truth be told, I don't really hate Notre Dame. During the Gerry Faust era, I pitied them (I was at that laugher of a miserable weather game in 1985 when PSU pounded them 36-6). During the Lou Holtz era, I respected them. During the Bob Davie and Ty Willingham eras, I ignored them. However, in the Charlie Weis era, I despise them.

Part of it's the arrogance of a man who claimed that he would bring Notre Dame a "decided schematic advantage," essentially claiming he could outcoach any of his opponents. Even after it turned out that his "decided schematic advantage" at New England was illegal videotaping of defensive signals, Cheating Charlie still maintains his arrogance, even if the mythical advantage never materialized.

So it'd be nice to say that I'd go back to being indifferent about Notre Dame once Chuck left, but unfortunately during his era I've read the espn fan boards and now realize that Notre Dame fans have to be the most delusional around. It's amazing. Year after year, they are going to crush every opponent they face...no one will be able to withstand their offensive onslaught or penetrate their defense (actually that's a tune they were talking more at the beginning of this season...now it's mainly their offense they talk about). Year after year, they are going to play for the national championship. It's hilarious, sad, and disgusting all at once.

Here's an excellent example. ESPN runs ridiculous bowl projections every week, basically trying to generate content and comment in our era of always-on, always-update media. This week, they have ND going up against either Miami or Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Either team would most likely rip ND apart. Yet here's what the fools on the board say:
As to the bowl projections! This is my wish-list for possible match-ups, as I think Notre Dame has the best chance against these teams because they match-up well; Bama, VaTech, Boise-I'd LOVE to see them play Boise, TCU, Texas-(only if we learn to block the speed rush), Penn State, Iowa-(They'd blow out Iowa. NO OFFENCE, LIBERTY!!), LSU, Cal, Ole Miss, and Ohio State. Teams that I don't want to see ND go up against- MIAMI is the number 1 team I don't want to see ND play, GaTech, Oregon, Florida, and Cincy-Tony Pike worries me.

Some guy named 07BestBet says that. I'm trying to find a team on that list that ND could beat. Maybe TCU. Now granted, he got called out by a few of his compadres for living in fantasyland, but the general euphoria generated by squeaker wins over teams with near or sub- .500 records is bizarre.

Wow. I've wasted a lot of time talking about this sad subject. And while it's been therapeutic for me, I'm sure it's all wasted on a Domer...kind of like talking to a Birther.

12 October 2009

Another business failure, part 2.

I thought I might follow up my post on the bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education with a little more bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education. After all, I was only able to address the overuse of adjunct labor as a cost-savings measure -- that is, the increasing casualization of the faculty. From a business model perspective, the faculty are more or less obstacles to the university, because they demand things like sabbaticals, travel and research grants, and are always trying to get the library to order things like books and journals. All of which, in the administration's opinion, are not terribly related to packing 35 students into survey courses that only exist because of some quaint notion that universities are supposed to produce well-rounded individuals, which by the way is my second point.

The business model hates the core curriculum, which is not to say that the business model doesn't find a use for the core curriculum.

The core curriculum -- that nebulous thing that goes under the name of general education requirements and in my long ago days of undergraduate triumph and tragedy, baccalaureate degree requirements -- is one of the things that keeps humanities departments in business in the corporate university. Since there are far fewer English and history and philosophy majors than there used to be (percentage-wise), the core is one of the only times the bulk of undergraduates come into contact with these "useless" disciplines that don't seem to have any relation to their ability to figure up spreadsheets or create colorful pie graphs for business meetings. In other words, these core courses lie outside the job-training major classes that the students, thinking that they'll forever be doing some static job in one field, crave. It therefore provides these humanities and hard sciences departments (although research dollars often save hard sciences the scrutiny and disdain afforded the humanities) with influence and faculty numbers that administrators find altogether disproportional to their importance in making the university money.

To the business model, the core is a somewhat necessary evil, because it's the most visible vestige of the fact that the school is more of a college and not simply a trade school. In other words, the core is a useful image improving tool, a marketable commodity in that it makes the degree a bit more prestigious than one from DeVry or most schools with "technical" in their name (with of course notable exceptions).

The core's other main use for the administration is to divide and conquer. By monkeying around with the core -- and what by the way could be further from the administration's purview than core education -- the administration generally maintains a constant state of infighting and distrust among departments, all of whom are scared they'll lose their slice of core pie and therefore are more concerned with protecting turf than getting together to demand a bigger pie.

05 October 2009

Another business failure.

If anyone wants to know what the dominance of the business model in higher education means, they need look no further than today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required for full story), which is reporting that the United States' role as a leader in higher ed is now fading.

Sure, the rise of other nations such as India and China contributes to the leveling of higher education across the globe, but that in itself is part of the reason that the corporate university fails so miserably: like their counterparts in Enron, Lehman Brothers, and Countrywide, the self-congratulatory CEO-styled university heads believed their own hype and felt that "they'd changed everything." That's a phrase usually heard before a colossal failure of some sort -- whether it's from an internet start-up, a political hack, or a fossilized CEO.

The rise of the corporate university (and I'm talking here about the aggressive importation of a business model to university governance as well as the replacement of academic university presidents with "business leaders") displaces learning -- whether through research or teaching -- as the central priority of the university, replacing it with customer service and profits. The goal of the university becomes filling seats; if something educational happens once that seat is filled, well, that's a happy by-product.

The business model has resulted in the growing casualization of the faculty, a relentless assault on core curriculum, and an increased attention to style over substance. Because of space restraints, I'll only deal with the first issue today.

As Marc Bousquet has pointed out on numerous occasions, the growing army of adjuncts that now account for the majority of college teaching are not simply being exploited by the university administration; they're also threatening the continuation of the comparatively cushy tenured and tenure-track positions that professors so covet. For a business model, it's a no brainer to hire three adjuncts at $2500 each with no benefits (total cost per year, 2 courses a semester: $15,000) instead of a tenure-track full-time professor at $45,000 plus benefits.

And those adjuncts will be hired, because it's not as if the work isn't there. For all its complaints about the need for flexibility, the corporatized administration ignores the fact that adjunct use is relatively steady or growing. Many adjuncts remain for decades at a school, and for those schools that rely heavily on their own graduate students to provide TA and adjunct labor, the faces may change but the need remains, year in and year out. In other words, the so-called over-production of PhDs (a familiar trope to anyone involved in an academic job search) is simply a fallacy. It's a manufactured crisis that has everything to do with the business model's disrespect for the traditional role of the university as a center of research and learning. As former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg so elegantly put it once, "Professors are like elevator operators; no matter how good they are, you can only fit the same amount of people in it."[1] The attitude that faculty members contribute little to the institutional memory or governance of the university is palpable.

As a result, at many larger universities, freshman may never encounter a full-time professor except as a peanut standing at a lectern on a stage.

[1] I have been searching for the source for this quote. I heard it on WAMU back in the mid-1990's, but can't turn up the source (Derek McGinty Show? Talk of the Nation? Diane "The Idiot" Rehm?). However, in 2007 Trachtenberg sat down with Kojo Nnamdi and an interesting moment came up about 40 minutes into the show, when a caller described her experience at GW as "training" -- in a positive way. She felt she had been trained. Not educated. Trained. Seals are trained. People should be educated. OMG. At 51 minutes he claims Gelman is one of the best libraries in the city. I suppose that's true, if you don't want to do any research, since GWU cut off many of its journal subscriptions in the 1980's, although the chairs and desks are nice and photograph well for brochures.