Weekend Reading: Live at MLA 2011 Edition

Empty desksTo what extent is ProfHacker, in its relentless enthusiasm, ironically complicit in worsening the working conditions of academics? Does encouraging work on productivity bespeak an ideology of scientific labor management? Does the (almost) free labor of composing So. Many. Posts suggest something worrying about the profession in straitened budgetary times?

That these questions were both raised on the very first day of the current MLA convention, in two different panels, one of them about a totally different topic, suggests a more general worry, one we all feel at this site. 

So I wanted to address the worry directly, then, in my role as one of the site’s founding editors, keeping in mind, too, that I’m on the executive committee of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress and am a union president (which means I’m pretty unpopular these days):

While it is the case that we usually think that the academy needs reform–needs to become more transparent and engaged, needs to become more sustainable, particularly around the abuse of contingent labor–we recognize and deplore the ways in which higher education is under attack, both on-campus and off-.  When ProfHacker writes about productivity, it is not in the name of a mindless commitment to getting more and more done–a demand for self-justification that can never truly be slaked–but rather in the name of allowing each of us to identify ways that will allow us to have the kind of career, and life, that we might want.  Get your writing done, not so you can write another LPU, but so you can go for a hike, or spend time with loved ones, or work on the project you really love, but which may not pay off for a while. 

In 2011, look for this subtext to become more explicit as ProfHacker begins to offer more direct commentary on how faculty can hack their working conditions: posts on analyzing financial statements, on speaking with the media, and on many more related topics are all forthcoming in the new year. (In addition, of course, to all the ProfHackery goodness you’ve come to expect over the past 16 months!)

On to the links:

  • At AstroBetter, Kelle Cruz has a terrific post up on using Google Docs to collaborate on NSF proposals.  How awesome? Her post includes a super-handy template.
  • The First Amendment Center reports on a case that may reinforce the free speech rights of faculty, even after the Garcetti case. (Via For background on the Garcetti case, and its implications for faculty governance, see the AAUP.
  • Jakob Nielsen reports on how college students actually use the web. Overly fervid believers in “digital natives” or in the idea that everything should be social will meet with some surprises: Students are multitaskers who move through websites rapidly, often missing the item they come to find. They’re enraptured by social media but reserve it for private conversations and thus visit company sites from search engines.
  • It turns out when you make hidden patterns explicit, academics have a better chance of success: “When new faculty arrive they often can’t see the forest for the trees. We want to create a kind of GPS for career management that will give them an aerial view of the organizational landscape so they can find the most efficient path to the information and support they need to reach their goals,” Steffen-Fluhr explained.
  • Have the spammers broken Google? Jeff Atwood explains that they might’ve.

And, for your video, let me point you to the MLA’s Narrating Lives YouTube project, where faculty are invited to offer short (1-minute) narratives about their professional life:

Why not add your own?

Photo by Flickr user dcJohn / Creative Commons licensed

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