The Teaching Compact

As one of the last cohort of flesh-and-bone tenured teachers of non-STEM courses at the postsecondary level, allow me to express what always ought to have been better understood, in this last light before the machines take over teaching as they have already begun to take over grading. Administrators, we all recognize, have long since been replaced by robots, whose reading is limited to grant applications and teaching evaluations.

I, as the professor, am not primarily interested in assessment. I …


The Growth in College Costs Is Slowing, Particularly for Poorer Families

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, President Mitch Daniels of Purdue University said, “For decades college tuition has outpaced inflation, forcing students to increase their borrowing.” While this sort of hyperbole is rampant in the media, it’s disconcerting, to say the least, coming from a college president. Daniels claims “tuition has outpaced inflation” for decades. What tuition? Is it tuition at public or private colleges? Is it published tuition or net tuition? And what ab…


An Adjunct’s Farewell

To my students at Assumption College:

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you, but to answer the question many of you have asked: No, I will not be teaching at Assumption College again next year. Although I did receive an offer to return, the conditions that led me to decline that offer are most likely unfamiliar to many of you and your families. This letter aims to remedy that.

I am an adjunct (part-time) instructor. As such, I receive drastically less pay than full-time faculty members, and…


How to Remove Bias From Peer Review

The ugly side of peer review was on full display last week when a scientific paper was rejected for reasons that smacked of sexism. Two female authors had submitted a paper to a journal that is part of the open-access PLOS family. A negative decision was made based on a single review stating, “It would probably also be beneficial to find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal review from, but better yet as active co-authors). … ”

The reviewer has since been removed


Save the Academic Conference. It’s How Our Work Blossoms.

It’s fun to mock academic conferences. They are quite mockable, because academics are nerds. At our best, because we all know that we are nerds, we work hard but don’t take ourselves or our rituals too seriously.

And yet I was concerned when Christy Wampole, an assistant professor of French and Italian at Princeton, asked, in a widely shared essay in The New York Times, “What is the purpose of the conference?” Her purpose was to call for better behavior, promoting a manifesto of best practices (…


All But Hired: Changing Incentives for Graduate Time-to-Degree

My name is Travis Proctor, and I am ABD.

If that sounds like a confession you might hear at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, it might as well be. In academic circles, ABD refers to “All But Dissertation,” the stage at which the only thing standing between me and being referred to as “Doctor Proctor” is the daunting task of writing the equivalent of my first research monograph. In the context of graduate school, ABD is considered an accomplishment: It means you’ve completed the grueling…


How Sweet Briar Can Save Itself

Whether the “Saving Sweet Briar” campaign succeeds in bringing the college back from the brink of closure, the announcement last month of its imminent demise is still a harbinger of tough times ahead for other private liberal-arts colleges. In a conflict between closing with dignity and fighting with every last breath and dollar, how Sweet Briar College prevails or fails will be instructive for all small colleges, single-gender and coed.

As one aligned with fighting to the end (and as a former p…


My Nomadic Class

My course this past semester began like so many others: 14 students and I arrived every Tuesday and Thursday morning in an uninspiring space of concrete-block walls and fluorescent lighting, with few windows and fixed desks all facing forward, ill suited to the discussion-based, flipped format of the class. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, we decided to go nomadic.

We had pedagogical reasons for doing so. The course focused on how the built environment both reflects and affects our ideas…


The ‘Story Behind the Story’: Making Lit Matter

In one of the first courses I took as an undergraduate, the English professor walked into class one morning invoking the name of Faulkner as if it were a sacred incantation: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read Faulkner.”  We students shivered at the sublimity of the name.  Since this trick seemed to work with his students, I figured I, now some 20 years later and new professor in my own right, would try the same trick with mine: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read—F…


A Field Guide to American Higher-Ed Reformers

This short and easy-to-use field guide is designed to help both academics and lay audiences quickly identify some of the important species and subspecies that now occupy the higher-education landscape in the United States. Recognizing these various species, many of which are new to this environment, has become particularly important in this period of drastic university climate change and species migration.

1. Venture philanthropists and foundations

Species: Benevolentia disrumpo

Habitat/range: F…