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Ivory Tower

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When the Last Light Warms the Rocks.

“Wilderness is a constant threat to order in True Detective. Neglected weeds grow between the cracks, along deserted freeways and in the broken pavement of abandoned parking lots. Orphaned bikes rust away in indeterminate piles of litter as the whole rottenpost-hurricane mess melts into a lush overgrowth that swallows up traces of a civilization that once was. As if to flaunt the victory of chaos over order, the weeds show America as a forgotten afterimage of itself and reveals it for the ‘jungle’ it has become and was before.”

By way of Matt Zoller Seitz’s Twitter feed, “America as Afterimage in True Detective”. Alas, this article is totally overwritten, in the usual style of po-mo-infused semioticians. Still, some intriguing ideas and connections amid the thicket of verbiage.

Where It Began, I Can’t Begin to Knowin’.

“‘This is the oldest fortified settlement in the present United States,’ said historian and Florida State University alumnus Fletcher Crowe. ‘This fort is older than St. Augustine, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in America. It’s older than the Lost Colony of Virginia by 21 years; older than the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years; and predates the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.'”

Two Florida professors announce they have found the site of Fort Caroline, a French outpost ravaged by the Spanish in 1565, near Darien, Georgia — not near Jacksonville where it was thought to be. ‘The frustrating and often acrimonious quest to find the fort has become a sort of American quest for the Holy Grail by archaeologists, historians and other scholars,’ he noted. ‘The inability to find the fort has made some wonder if it ever existed.'”

But other researchers are saying hold up. “‘It’s not conceivable that the soldiers could have made it to the Altamaha River from St. Augustine in two days…If they are correct, then the Spanish would have moved the St. Augustine settlement 70 miles south, to its present location. There is simply no evidence for this,’ said Meide. ‘This new theory doesn’t stand up to the archaeological and historical information that has been amassed by scholars over the past fifty years.'”

Thus far, archaeologists have yet to scope the newly proposed site. So, with all due respect to fellow historians, I’d probably wait to see what they find first.

Great Strides in Nonsense.

“According to Nature News, Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, recently informed Springer and the IEEE, two major scientific publishers, that between them, they had published more than 120 algorithmically-generated articles. In 2012, Labbé had told the IEEE of another batch of 85 fake articles. He’s been playing with SCIgen for a few years—in 2010 a fake researcher he created, Ike Antkare, briefly became the 21st most highly cited scientist in Google Scholar’s database.”

“Sarcasm detector…now that’s a really useful invention.” In Slate, Konstantin Kakaes explains how academic science journals have been routinely snookered by algorithmically-generated nonsense. “First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.”

Leave This Academic Factory.

“I am what’s called an adjunct. I teach four courses per semester at two different colleges, and I am paid just $24,000 a year and receive no health or pension benefits. Recently, I was profiled in the New York Times as the face of adjunct exploitation…Rather than use my situation to explain the systemic problem of academic labor, the article personalized – even romanticized – my situation as little more than the deferred dream of a struggling PhD with a penchant for poetry.”

Another for the PhDon’t file: Im the Guardian, James Hoff sets the record straight about the reality of today’s academic factory floor. “The adjunct problem is about the continued exploitation of a large, growing and diverse group of highly educated and dedicated college teachers who have been asked to settle for less pay (sometimes as little as $21,000 a year for full-time work) because the institutions they work for have callously calculated that they can get away with it.” It’s a nightmare, people — avoid it if you can. (Adjunctimir via here.)

Academia: A Sucker’s Gambit.

“The de-professionalization of the faculty is another long-running tragedy that gets a little sadder every year, as teaching college students steadily becomes an occupation for people with no tenure, no benefits, and no job security. These lumpen-profs, who have spent many years earning advanced degrees but sometimes make less than minimum wage, now account for more than three-quarters of the teaching that is done at our insanely expensive, oh-so-excellent American universities. Their numbers increase constantly as universities continue to produce far more PhDs than they do full-time, tenure-track job openings, and every time cutbacks are necessary — which is to say, all the time — it is those same full-time, tenure-track job openings that get pruned.”

In a long, angry, and sadly on-point essay for The Baffler, Thomas Frank laments the corporatization (and demise) of the American university. “Just about everyone in academia believes that they were the smartest kid in their class…So tenured faculty find it easy to dismiss the de-professionalization of their field as the whining of second-raters who can’t make the grade…Then again, they will all be together, assuredly, as they sink finally into the briny deep.”

In very related news, an interested reader passes along this extended infographic on the adjunct crisis, which is excerpted above. Click through for the entire dismal story.

Welcome to the Machine.

“We end up with a question of just how long the slow decay of existing systems (many of them admittedly dysfunctional) will go on without anyone, technocrat or otherwise, having to deal with the fact that the needs that created those systems remain as acute as ever while the ability of our society to satisfy those needs is more and more deficient…Defund the schools in Philadelphia and the children of Philadelphia who can’t flee to private institutions or move with families to the suburbs are still there. Incentives can only push so much dust under the rug before the rug itself is mounded high to the ceiling of the room.”

In a less-than-positive review of the administration’s recently-proposed higher education reforms — in short, Race to the Bottom for colleges — Tim Burke attempts to explain the madness behind Obama’s technocratic method. “Technocrats live in the wonderland of the question marks in the Underpants Gnomes business model, endlessly fussing over the exact terms of Point #1 and certain that the Profit! of #3 will follow.”

Also, I said this in the Virtually Speaking chat the other day, but we’ve tried this sort of business-minded technocratic leadership before in America — It didn’t pan out. (Burke post by way of Tropics of Meta.)

America By Coach.

“You may have heard that the highest-paid employee in each state is usually the football coach at the largest state school. This is actually a gross mischaracterization: Sometimes it is the basketball coach.”

Deadspin’s Reuben Fischer-Baum conjures up a map of the highest-paid public employee in each state, and, yes, it’s usually a coach. By way of comparison, the college players actually bringing in all the revenue get…nada.

Adjuncting Gets Even Worse.

“Allison G. Armentrout, an adjunct instructor at Stark State College, doesn’t get paid by the hour. She earns $4,600 to teach two English composition courses…On a recent week, she spent three hours preparing for her lectures, close to six hours in the classroom, and 16 more grading assignments for a grand total of about 25 hours. So she can breathe a sigh of relief because she won’t lose her job: She came in under the college’s new 29-hour-a-week wire designed to keep her ineligible for health-care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Leave this academic factory, you’ll find me in the matinee: Compounding life in the Nine Circles of Adjunct Hell, more and more college and universities are trying to game the system so they don’t have to pay for adjuncts’ health care coverage. Because if you’re going to exploit your desperate, over-educated workforce like it’s a Gilded Age factory floor, why not go all the way?

“What is happening — and I’m finding this even with just two classes—because of the grading load, I’ve been put in a position twice this semester where I’ve just had to lie about the number of hours I actually worked. I don’t want to have to make a choice between having a job or not.”

PhDon’t. | JD’s a Bust too.

“[W]hat if I told you that by ‘five hours’ I mean ’80 hours,’ and by ‘summers off’ I mean ‘two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning’? What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘Othering’…I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure — largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.”

Another one for my burgeoning PhDont tag: Literature professor and Kafka scholar Rebecca Schuman explains once again why getting a humanities PhD is a terrible life decision these days. “No, you will not get a job – In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life.”

What she said: The jobs are not out there, the wheels have come off the tenure-track cart, and many people are in a bad way. I count my lucky stars every day that I had a prior career to fall back on.

Update: “More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: ‘It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.'” As Stephen Harper points out in Salon, law school isn’t the best answer either. “The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak…For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today…positions were never there at all.”

Update 2: “Once, being a college professor was a career. Today, it’s a gig…Since 1975, tenure and tenure-track professors have gone from roughly 45 percent of all teaching staff to less than a quarter.” More fuel for the pyre: The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann offers a graph depicting the demise of tenure. “[T]he big story across academia is broadly the same: if it were a movie, it’d be called ‘Rise of the Adjuncts.’…The AAUP reports that the median pay for teaching a single course was $3,200 at a public research university, and just $2,250 at a community college.

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