How Large Class Sizes and Low Faculty Wages Undermine College “Student Success”— In California and Beyond

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/02/2019 - 4:03am in

By Trevor Griffey, PhD; Lecturer,
Labor Studies & U.S. History, UCLA and CSUDH; trevorgriffey@gmail.com.
Photo Credit: Felicia Mello

Gavin Newsom, the new Governor of California, is the biggest supporter of public higher education to hold that office in the past 15 years. He served on the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees and UC Board of Regents from 2010-18. He is taking office at a moment when it is fairly easy for him to show his support for higher education. California has a projected $21.5 billion budget surplus (and roughly $15 billion in reserves) for 2019-20.

In what he called his “California For All” budget for 2019-20, Newsom has proposed adding an additional $1.4 billion to California’s public higher education system: $400 million largely to make community college free, $562 million increase in revenue for the CSUs ($300 million of which is ongoing), a $240 million funding increase for the UC system (plus an additional $130 million for deferred maintenance), funding for legal services to support undocumented students, and more.

With this large new investment in higher education, Newsom’s budget proposal said that that he was trying “to increase access to higher education, improve student success and timely degree completion, and to better ensure that college remains affordable by freezing tuition at current levels.”

And yet, despite the commitment of over a billion dollars of new revenue to the U.S.’s largest community college and public university system, little of that money is likely to go where it is most needed: to reducing class sizes for introductory college courses, and to replacing poorly-paid temp job for college instructors with professional positions at living wages.

The reason is simple, and ideological: today’s higher education administrators— in California and around the U.S.— are committed to a version of what they call “student success” that marginalizes questions of class size, teaching load, and the working conditions of faculty from their definition of success. For them, student success means reducing the number of students who do not receive credit for and thus have to retake college courses, increasing the percentage of students who earn a degree, and reducing the time it takes for students to complete their studies. To achieve these changes, administrators hire education statistics gurus to track students, and bring in counselors and tutors to move students along “guided pathways” toward a degree. Learning is measured by the percentage of students who receive Cs or higher in their classes, because the accumulation of credits toward a degree is what matters most. Success is defined by graphs showing upward progress on certain key metrics, especially “time to degree.”

All levels of California’s public higher education system reflect this thinking. In 2010, the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at CSU Sacramento issued a report called “Divided We Fail.”  It found that 70% of all students who enrolled in California’s community colleges did not receive a degree within six years. In response, the California Community College system formed a Student Success Task Force, which issued a 77-page report in 2012 that put forward eight recommendations for increasing retention and graduation rates. None included suggestions for improving students’ teaching and learning environment.

Instead, the report defined student success as “Percentage of community college students completing their educational goals; Percentage of community college students earning a certificate or degree, transferring, or achieving transfer-readiness; Number of students transferring to a four-year Institution; [and] Number of degrees and certificates earned.”

Increasing undergraduate students’ retention and graduation rates is a worthwhile goal, since students who accumulate college debt and do not receive degrees are generally worse off than students who did not enroll in college at all, at least from a financial perspective. The problem is that this "get a C" vision of student success sidelines what students learn, or how they learn. In many schools’ strategic plans and student success initiatives, discussions of teaching quality are entirely absent.

When teaching and learning is included in student success initiatives and university strategic plans, it is often to promote the latest inquiry-based pedagogical strategies, grouped under the label “active learning.” Active learning is also a worthwhile project for colleges to support. But does it really mean merely introducing technological gadgets like iClickers to a classroom? If not, active learning requires reducing class size to facilitate student-led exercises and regular feedback from faculty.

Active learning can also mean showcase courses rather than widespread availability. This then leads to the celebration of a few small classes because they are “active” and not because they are small. By hailing what is old (teaching) as something new (innovation), administrators distract the public from  the fact that most of their curriculum is taught by underpaid, overworked faculty in classes that are far too large to support those students, particularly those most at risk of failing or dropping out.

California’s Community Colleges 
I have personally witnessed this framing of student success as something to be achieved by administrators and staff, and not by teachers or teaching, while serving as a member of the “Student Success Committee” at Long Beach City College, and as a lecturer in U.S. History and Labor Studies at CSU Dominguez Hills.

When I taught U.S. History at Long Beach City College in the Fall of 2017, I was one of 687 part-time lecturers at the school. We made up 43 percent of all employees at the school, and 68 percent of all faculty. We taught 43 percent of all courses, and we earned approximately $3,000 per 15-week course. Capped by state law at 3 courses per semester (a full-time teaching load is considered to be 5 courses per semester), the average lecturer at LBCC earned less than $13,000 per year, was ineligible for health benefits, and had almost no job security.

From what I’ve gleaned from various surveys of lecturers across the country, and also from informal conversations with colleagues at both LBCC and schools in the CSU system, there are a few major survival strategies for those who are paid so poorly to teach college courses:

  • work outside of higher education full-time, and treat community college teaching as a side gig for extra income; 
  • teach 7-10 courses per semester spread across at least three schools (usually other community colleges, sometimes also CSUs) to get around the cap on 3 courses per school; 
  • rely on a spouse’s income, sometimes while taking care of small children at home; 
  • or do this work while taking out loans as a graduate student (usually at a local University of California campus, but sometimes from a CSU campus).

Every one of these adjunct strategies for surviving poverty wages limit the amount of time that they have to spend on any given student.

This problem is exacerbated by how adjuncts in California’s community colleges are paid. Adjuncts are not salaried employees, but rather are classified as hourly employees who are only paid for the time they spend in the classroom (3 hours per 3 credit course per week). This sends adjuncts a very clear signal that they are not paid to prepare class lesson plans or course syllabi, to meet with students outside of class, to respond to student emails, or to grade student work. And if they’re not paid to do any of these things, then what incentive do adjuncts have to give students assignments that they will have to spend time grading, let alone teach students how to write?

Horror stories emerge from working conditions like these. At one CSU school, I met someone who taught 5 courses per semester while sometimes teaching additional courses at LBCC and other local colleges to make ends meet. This meant solo teaching of 200-400 students per semester across multiple schools, and in one case as many as 600 students in a semester. How could one person possibly do this? Her method was to administer online multiple choice tests produced by textbook publishers so that she didn’t actually have to read or evaluate student work at all.

This is just an extreme form of a more general problem: the reliance of many if not most community college faculty on easy-to-grade multiple choice tests and worksheets, instead of deeper and more transformative work teaching students how to read and write papers.

Another colleague of mine who teaches at a community college in Orange County told me that she knew multiple instructors at her school who also worked on the side for web sites used by college students to pay someone to write their papers for them. In other words: these community college teachers were paid so poorly, and felt so demoralized, that they got into the business of helping college students cheat by writing their papers for them.

Because LBCC lecturers are represented by a union, and the union bargained to be included in campus governance and receive payment for service, I volunteered to serve on a committee to supplement my income while teaching at LBCC.  That I was assigned to the campus “student success committee” was just an effect of my teaching schedule, and not because I knew what student success was. What I learned was that on average, more than 30 percent of LBCC students do not complete the courses they enroll in, and completion rates for African American, Asian American and Latino/a students tend to be lower than those of white students. And yet despite the school’s “integrated plan” celebrating its embrace of “flipped classrooms, bootcamps, compressed classes, and integrated wrap around services such as counseling and study skills” to increase equity and completion rates, at no point did members of the student success committee discuss the possibility that perhaps paying its faculty poverty level wages was NOT a recipe for “student success.”

Instead, the meetings were organized around fast-paced presentations of student completion rates and strategic plan goals, combined with reports from other committees, with the actual committee’s work not always easy for me to discern. I never raised my concerns about low teacher pay and demoralizing working conditions in committee meetings, partly because I was new and still learning, and also because I ended up leaving the school after one semester after deciding that I could not justify teaching for so little money.

LBCC is hardly unique in California’s 114-campus community college system. More than two thirds of California’s 60,636 public community college instructors were part-time lecturers in Fall of 2017. That semester, they taught 46 percent of all community college courses to almost 1.6 million students. And, according to my calculations, their average salary was just over $13,000 per year at each institution.

That same semester, only 62 percent of students enrolled in California’s community colleges passed basic skills courses, and only 72 percent passed courses for credit— with numbers far worse for students enrolled in online programs (or “distance learning”).   As a result, though there has been substantial improvement in the past decade, less than 50 percent of California community college students graduate or transfer to other schools within 6 years.

There appears to be a correlation between low teacher pay and poor student performance (page 5).  But for ideological reasons, California’s community college administrators don’t talk about this issue in relation to student success initiatives. So the vast majority of the state’s community college faculty continue to be told that there is no money for living wages, while their schools increase spending to hire more administrators, data analysts, counselors and tutors--in the name of equity and justice.

The California State University System
The politics of student success in the California State University (CSU) system— the largest public university system in the U.S., with 430,000 undergraduates on 23 campuses— are similar and related to those at the state’s community colleges. People who work for the CSUs like to call it “the people’s university.” Because it is primarily a teaching rather than research university, and 95 percent of CSU students are from “in-state," its student demographics more closely reflect youth demographics in California more broadly: more than 50 percent of its undergraduates are people of color, forty percent are Latino/a, and one third are the first in their families to attend college.

Unlike the University of California, the CSUs have not relied upon enrolling out of state and international students to offset declining per capita support from state legislators. Instead, their response to the great recession has been to grow their way into fiscal health on the cheap. This involves consistently exceeding the state’s funding based on projected enrollment, and enrolling between 15,000 to 20,000 more students than even the CSUs plan for. Then first year student class sizes are pushed to the legal limit established by the local fire department (usually packing 60 in a room). And finally, the schools have raised individual undergraduate student tuition and “student success” fees to offset budget cuts.

CSU Enrollment Contrasted With Enrollment Targets Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Students

This strategy has produced extraordinary growth within the CSU system, with CSU Northridge, Fullerton, Long Beach and San Diego now enrolling more than 30,000 undergraduate students every year. Indeed, CSU Northridge now has more undergraduates than UC Berkeley, and is second in the state in undergraduate full-time equivalent enrollment only to UCLA.

Why enroll so many more students than planned for? One reason is because the CSUs are required as part of the California Master Plan to enroll the top 33% of high school graduates in California, and the number of eligible high school graduates and community college transfers has grown dramatically the past 15 years (though enrollment is expected to level off). Another reason is that most CSU campuses, unprepared for the spike in eligible applicants, had admissions policies that guaranteed access to either all eligible applicants or all eligible “local” applicants. This combination of demographic change and quasi-open admissions has produced chaos on CSU campuses across the state in the past few years.  Administrators have used the chaos to justify increased tuition and fees on students and reduced numbers of transfer students at over-enrolled (or “impacted”) campuses.

In the meantime, the CSU has aggressively lobbied the state legislature for more money, but have largely not channeled that money into teachers and teaching. Before the great recession, government funding for public higher education in California was based upon a “marginal cost” formula that presumed that a new tenure track professor will be hired with the addition of 19 new full-time equivalent students.  When the Brown administration tossed this formula out the window during the early 2010s, the CSU responded to the combination of budget cuts and growing enrollment pressures to hire the cheapest faculty possible.

So while the percentage of tenure track faculty in the CSUs grew a modest 7.4 percent between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of part-time lecturers grew an immodest 41.8 percent. For the first time in CSU history, tenure density has dropped below 40 percent, and at some campuses is essentially the same as at community colleges (which often provide their students with newer classrooms and smaller class sizes).

The effect of CSU’s growth strategy upon students is especially stark at one of the schools where I teach, CSU Dominguez Hills. CSUDH was built following the Watts rebellion to partly serve the nearby predominantly Black and Latino/a communities of Compton and South Central Los Angeles. As other Southern California CSU campuses began to turn eligible students away the last few years, CSUDH became a “backup school” for Southern California residents who wanted to live at or near home but could no longer get into CSU Long Beach, Northridge, Fullerton, or Los Angeles. In the past two years, CSUDH’s undergraduate population has grown 9 percent, and its first-time first year student population has grown 57 percent.

CSUDH epitomizes growth on the cheap. Despite 75 percent of incoming first year students needing remedial English or Math assistance, and 61 percent being the first in their families to attend college, they are thrown into 60-person introductory and general education (GE) courses taught mainly by adjunct faculty. Since 5 courses per semester is considered a normal full-time faculty workload, this pushes the number of students that many adjunct faculty teach above 200 students per semester. Unable to provide their students individualized attention, it is common for faculty to resort to assigning multiple-choice tests rather than more time-intensive assignments through which students can develop their reading and writing skills.

The warehousing of first year students is profitable. The tuition of just 6-7 of the students enrolled in a 60-person course covers the salary for their adjunct instructor (which hovers between $4-5,000 per course, or less than $50,000 per year if they have what is considered a full-time teaching workload). The other 90 percent of student tuition from these GE courses is siphoned off by the administration.

This system also reinforces racial inequality in our society.  The students admitted to CSUDH and then thrown into these large courses taught by overworked and underpaid adjuncts are being set up to fail. Approximately 25-40 percent of the students in the Introduction to U.S. History course, regardless of whether they’re taught by adjuncts or tenure track faculty, receive grades so low that they do not receive credit, even though they paid for the course and can’t get their money back.

Discouraged by these and similar experiences, more than 20 percent of first year students at CSUDH drop out after the first year. Less than half of full-time first year students are likely ever to earn a degree from the school. Student poverty and the challenges of balancing school with work and family play a role in these low retention rates. But I suspect that creating an alienating learning environment in which students are treated like numbers makes students rightly question the value of the education they’re receiving.  One overcrowded classroom after another encourages them to see college as every bit as oppressive and irrelevant as their high schools might have been for them.

CSUDH has some of the worst retention rates and time to degree rates in the CSUs, but the difference is of degree rather than kind. Roughly 40 percent of all first year students in the CSUs don’t get degrees within 6 years, thought that is an improvement over rates a few years prior.

Commitment to improving the teaching and learning environment of the CSUs varies widely across its nearly two dozen campuses, but in my opinion is largely lacking from the Chancellor’s office.  The CSUs have recently embraced their own form of “student success” planning, which they call “Graduation Initiative 2025,” to address high student fail and dropout rates. Though CSU research indicates a connection between tenure density and student success, and some CSU campus administrators have gone so far as to declare that “an engaged faculty is essential to student success,” the Chancellor’s office has decentralized the process of creating plans to increase student retention and graduation rates, and only seven of the CSU’s 23 campuses chose to make increasing tenure density a priority (pages 31-33).  CSUDH was not one of them.

The argument for increasing tenure density to promote student success is not an argument that adjunct faculty are bad teachers. It is an argument that they are overworked and underpaid teachers. It is an argument that in this system, the majority of teachers have few incentives other than charity to give their students the support they deserve. Though tenure track faculty at the CSUs are burdened with excessive teaching and service workloads compared to faculty at the UCs, and, depending on the campus, may also face severe class size issues, their higher pay and more permanent position can sometimes provide them with the ability to give their students more attention than lecturers who are teaching 200-300 students per semester while earning poverty wages.

But increasing tenure density is not a significant priority for the CSU Chancellor’s office. When the California Faculty Association, the union for CSU faculty, lobbied in 2018 for state revenue to increase tenure density, the Chancellor’s office opposed it on the grounds that they do not want the legislature telling them how to spend their money.

When the CSU lost, and the legislature gave the CSUs $25 million that could only be used to increase tenure density, the Chancellor put the money into its graduation initiative funds, and distributed the money equally across its 23 campuses even though most campuses’ graduation initiatives did not include plans to increase tenure density.

This is what happens when teaching is seen as peripheral to student success. It leaves faculty struggling in their off hours to “follow the money” and fight just to be included in plans to improve undergraduate education.

Now that Governor Newsom has offered the CSUs hundreds of millions in new revenue, CSU Chancellor Tim White has announced that he anticipates that most of the new money that the CSU receives will go toward increasing enrollment and reducing the time to graduation for students. Neither goal is bad per se.

But so long as the CSU depends on a growth model of continuing to hire low-wage temps for faculty to teach first year students, then steering students’ tuition revenue and fees away from teachers and teaching into tracking and advising, it’s hard to believe that any of the CSU’s lofty goals for “student success” will amount to anything more than enrolling more students to pay more money for a lower quality education.

If we let that happen, then we as educators, and the people of California, will have failed our students.

Kwame Dawes - What is a decolonial curriculum?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/02/2019 - 11:41pm in

Kwame Dawes, TORCH Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, gives a talk for the workshop, What is a Decolonial Curriculum? Held at TORCH on 28th November 2018. Decolonising the curriculum must mean more than simply including diverse texts. As Dalia Gebrial, one of the editors of the new book, Decolonising the University (Pluto Press, 2018) has written, any student and academic-led decolonisation movement must not only 'rigorously understand and define its terms, but locate the university as just one node in a network of spaces where this kind of struggle must be engaged with. To do this...is to enter the university space as a transformative force

Bringing Ethics Into Computer Science at Harvard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/02/2019 - 12:10am in

Computer scientists and philosophers are working together at Harvard to bring ethics into computer science courses.

Barbara Grosz, a computer science professor, and Alison Simmons, a professor of philosophy, have “developed a model that draws on the expertise of the philosophy department and integrates it into a growing list of more than a dozen computer science courses, from introductory programming to graduate-level theory,” according to The Harvard Gazette.

The collaboration began in 2015 when Grosz created “Intelligent Systems: Design and Ethical Challenges,” a course she team team taught with members of the philosophy department that ended up being very popular.

Now, the collaboration is formalized in a program called “Embedded EthiCS” and involves a team of faculty and graduate students. Embedded EthiCS develops course modules on various subjects that are integrated into the computer science courses. Current modules include “Facebook, Fake News, and the Ethics of Censorship,” “Privacy in the Design of Data Systems,” and “The Ethics of Hacking Back,” among other subjects.

Grosz says, “Ethics permeates the design of almost every computer system or algorithm that’s going out in the world. We want to educate our students to think not only about what systems they could build, but whether they should build those systems and how they should design those systems.”

Sculpture by Julie Alice Chappell

Links: Embedded EthiCS site;  The Harvard Gazette article.

Related: “Computer Science Ethics: A Growth Area for Philosophy?

(via Gaurav Vazirani)

The post Bringing Ethics Into Computer Science at Harvard appeared first on Daily Nous.

“Step aside and let philosophers do their job”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/02/2019 - 1:54am in

Elizabeth Oljar and David Koukal (University of Detroit Mercy) have penned a spirited case for universities entrusting the teaching of critical thinking to departments of philosophy in The Chronicle of Higher Education (may be paywalled).

They argue against the “common assumption that all professors teach critical thinking, and that no one discipline has any special claim to expertise in this area.”

If we take “critical thinking” to be “thinking about thinking itself,” or, less pithily, “the conscious, deliberate, rational evaluation of claims according to clearly identified standards of proof,” its “natural disciplinary home,” they say, is philosophy, “a discipline that has been thinking about thinking since its inception.”

Oljar and Koukal write:

Philosophers have spent centuries formulating logical principles that distinguish good reasoning from bad reasoning. Knowing the difference between premises and conclusions, factual claims and inferential claims, deductive and inductive arguments, and good from fallacious reasoning is vital for thinking seriously about thinking. But you won’t learn any of that in “Intro to Organic Chemistry”…

[P]rofessors of literature, history, economics, nursing, and business are all presumably competent critical thinkers in their own disciplines. But if students are to learn what it means to be a critical thinker in all areas of their life, then they must be taught what constitutes good critical thinking in general—and that means taking a philosophy course. Consider fallacies, or mistakes in reasoning: Fallacies occur across the entire spectrum of claims to knowledge, but their essential characteristics are the same regardless of the subject matter. Professors who cannot recognize fallacious arguments in any context—even if they can identify them in their own disciplines—cannot truly teach critical thinking.

They argue that college students should be required to take a course in critical thinking:

In an ideal world, a course in critical thinking or informal logic would be considered just as essential to a university education as are courses in algebra and composition, and would be taught in the freshman year… The course would point out the various psychological barriers to good reasoning and could include units on scientific, statistical, moral, and legal reasoning. But its main focus would be on providing students with the fundamentals of argumentation, especially as those pertain to everyday life.

These courses would be easy to justify. Good critical thinkers navigate the world with a kind of intellectual body armor, making them less likely to be deceived by improbable claims, more likely to make reasonable requests for evidence, and more aware of rhetorical ploys that appeal only to our emotions, biases, or prejudices. Good critical thinkers recognize human finitude and fallibility, and are always conscious of the roles those characteristics play in the formation of belief. Critical thinking might, in fact, be the paradigm of a liberal art, for it both broadens and frees the minds of our students. And the study of logic is an essential key to this liberation.

Oljar and Koukal are standing up for philosophy’s disciplinary expertise, and we should appreciate that. Yet, because they are arguing for a conclusion we want to be true, we have extra reason to be cautious in accepting it.

One way of being cautious would be to note that despite making a number of empirical claims, the authors refer to zero empirical studies supporting these claims. Here are some of those empirical claims:

(1) Taking a course in critical thinking improves a students ability to think critically.
(2) The most effective critical thinking courses are ones that focus largely on informal logic and argument structure.
(3) Critical thinking courses offered by philosophy departments are more effective than critical thinking courses offered by other departments.

Is (1) true? One study suggests that taking a course in critical thinking improves the critical thinking of only those students who’ve previously studied logic. Further, that study provides no support for thinking that critical thinking instruction via a philosophy course is more effective than, say, instruction via a course in mathematical logic, weakening the case for (3). A 2016 metastudy provides some evidence that college students end up with improved critical thinking skills, but observed “no differences in the critical-thinking skills of students in different majors,” which on the face of it counts against the truth of  (2) and (3). On the plus side, a recent study did provide empirical support for critical thinking instruction, but just for a specific method of doing so: argument-mapping.

To my knowledge, there is not much evidence either way about the effectiveness of philosophy-based critical thinking college courses. The idea that philosophy courses would be particularly effective means by which to teach critical thinking has intuitive plausibility, but intuitive plausibility at best provides only indirect and very weak evidence for causal claims.

Oljar and Koukal end their essay by voicing a wish for others to “step aside and let philosophers do their job.” We are experts, after all. But philosophers should be as respectful of the expertise of others as they wish those others to be of them. Rather than assuming our way to our preferred conclusions, we should work with experts in education to determine whether there is a solid foundation of empirical evidence for them.

(This would be an excellent project for the American Philosophical Association to initiate and help fund.)

Related posts: “Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking?“; “Teaching Students Logic Improves Their Logical Reasoning Skills“; “The Benefits of Pre-College Exposure to Philosophy: Data Needed“; “Teach Everyone Logic?“; “Empirical Support for a Method of Teaching Critical Thinking“; “Skepticism About Philosophy’s Capacity To Improve Thinking“; “Philosophy as Anti-Terrorism Tool“; “Philosophy in Schools: Continuing the Conversation


The post “Step aside and let philosophers do their job” appeared first on Daily Nous.

The Point and Selection of Readings in Introductory Philosophy Courses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/02/2019 - 1:21am in

“What role should readings play at the lower undergraduate level in a philosophy class?”

That question was sent in by a reader, who explains the motivation for the question:

During my own undergraduate years, I did readings for some classes and not others. I never found readings especially helpful in understanding lectures. In fact, I usually have to use what I learned in lecture to understand what I read (that is, I can only understand something if I read after class rather than before). I remember a lot of what I learned in class, and not at all what I read, except how it was really hard to not fall asleep while I mindlessly turned the pages. Granted, my case might not be general: I might’ve had a different learning style than others; I might’ve had profs who were especially good at lecturing and bad at assigning readings, etc. So, my question is: what should the act of reading accomplish in intro-level philosophy classes?

We could add to the inquiry: how does your view of the role and aims of readings affect which readings you have your students do, how much reading you assign, what reading-related work you ask students to do, and so on.

Related: “Why Students Aren’t Reading

Book sculpture by Su Blackwell

The post The Point and Selection of Readings in Introductory Philosophy Courses appeared first on Daily Nous.

Classroom Discussion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/02/2019 - 3:40am in

I’ve started writing occasionally for the Association of College and University Educators. The posts will probably recapitulate a lot of themes from my blogging about teaching and learning here at CT, but for a different audience. Here is the first post, about making fruitful classroom discussions happen. Here’s a taster:

All teachers experience a tension between the need for engagement and the need for rigor. Without rigor, the students won’t learn what we want them to; without engagement, they won’t learn anything at all. In the classroom, the best way to guarantee rigor is for the professor to do all the talking—this is how they delude themselves that the class is going well. Unfortunately, this is also the best way to ensure complete disengagement, leading to torpor when we do try to stimulate discussion.

I decided to write it because I said something to the effect of the above paragraph in class recently, and a student stared at me, as if having an epiphany, and said “Do you explain this to students?”; it occurred to me that I don’t even say it to other teachers!

Rethinking ‘Global Political Economy’ for the age of the anthropocene – our new MA

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/01/2019 - 1:23am in

To mark the launch of Goldsmiths’s new MA Global Political Economy, convenor Sahil Jai Dutta examines how the programme centres the environment in IPE.


Politics and economics are inseparable. But too often we treat them as distinct. A good example is the energy industry. Many argue that renewables are too expensive and lack the capacity to meet the world’s energy demand. But why is that demand so high, and are fossil fuels really cheaper? The IMF estimates that in 2015, governments around the world subsidised energy consumption by $482 billion. When the broader health and social costs of fossil fuel were included the figure stood at a staggering $5.3 trillion. This dwarfs what the renewable sector costs.

More importantly, the way we organise the production, distribution and consumption of food, textiles, technology, shelter etc – the stuff of life – is for a large part of the world hugely energy intensive. This highlights that there are important questions we need to ask about the history and the future of our current societies and economies. These questions are missed if we analyse markets simply as mechanisms that match supply to demand.

What lays beneath this surface are stories of financial engineering, corporate lobbying, geopolitical wrangling, infrastructure mismanagement, imperial plunder, legalised corruption and more. Public funds, state legislation, political mobilisation, and private profit all work together. This is why academic boundaries that separate public from private, state from market, human from natural, and economic from ecological are misleading.

This reality of capitalism in the age of the Anthropocene demonstrates the urgency of political economic analysis. At its best, political economy is a necessarily transdisciplinary field of inquiry that confronts the world concretely and holistically. That was certainly our aim when we created a new MA programme in Global Political Economy to begin in  2019. The field has flourished in Britain in recent years, bringing to light innovative ‘heterodox’ work that has been locked out of mainstream economics departments for too long. But there is more to be done.

In putting the programme together we wanted to resist the intellectual contortions of disciplinary boundaries to instead ask how is it that we have come to organise our society in the way we have? What rules, institutions and ideas have been established, who have they enriched, who have they exploited, how and why? This meant designing modules that draw from sociology, cultural studies, Science and Technology Studies, history, heterodox economics and anthropology. Uniquely, we are the first department to recognise that questions of the environment are core to the global political economy programme, and not optional additions.


The MA GPE is made up of two central modules. The first is a twentieth-century Theory and History of Capitalism. In this module students learn about the mechanics of the international political economic system, the hierarchies of currency and trade, and capitalism’s crisis-ridden history.

The second examines the Political Economy of the Anthropocene. We trace how the natural world was remade and translated into a framework of US postwar economics. The Great Acceleration in growth since 1945 has seen the production of three-quarters of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. This is a problem of a particular political economic order, not the human species in general. This gives us a firmer grasp of the political faultlines of environmental breakdown and the possibilities and pitfalls of a Green New Deal.

Four optional modules have been developed for the programme. Experts and Economies turns the traditional IPE subject of global governance on its head to ask how knowledge and expertise are crucial to the governance, regulation and representation of the global economy. It examines the political ‘boundary work’ of economics as a discipline, the neo-colonial power of economists and the rise of neoliberal expertise and technocracy.

Finance and Power explores how we developed a political economic system premised on relentless debt creation and how we govern a financial sector that bears such distant relation to the ‘real economy fundamentals’ it supposedly serves. America and the World Economy traces how the US came to play a unique role in the construction of the global economic order. The module examines the historical roots of US hegemony, its continuing structural impact, its current predicaments and future prospects.

The final new option shifts the focus to the Political Economy of the Global South. It examines the role of global labouring classes and logistics in the functioning of the contemporary economy, the dynamics of unequal ecological exchange between the South and North, the political economy of narcotics and the rise of authoritarian right-wing forces in the South.

In all the programme hopes to give students the critical skills needed to ‘read’ the world around them. Rejecting simplistic one-size-fits all methodologies, students will learn how to interrogate the world with rigour and depth. Upholding a true spirit of plurality, the MA will continue PERC’s work of scrutinising the technologies, ideas and institutions that make up the global political economy.

The post Rethinking ‘Global Political Economy’ for the age of the anthropocene – our new MA appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

An Approach to Teacher Training in Philosophy Departments (guest post by Colin Heydt)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/01/2019 - 1:16am in

“This is not revolutionary stuff. But it is important. And it is stuff I wish I’d known about early in my teaching career.”

The following is a guest post* by Colin Heydt, professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida (USF), on the subject of training graduate students how to teach.

An Approach to Teacher Training in Philosophy Departments
by Colin Heydt

By my fifth semester as a TA in graduate school, I had worked with some fine teachers, picking up what I could by observation and advice. But that semester, a professor told me something about his teaching that dumbfounded me: “When I’m planning my classes, I begin by identifying one or two things that I want students to learn and then build out the class from there.” That accords with “backward design” in course and lesson-planning—start with what you want students to learn. Obvious once it’s pointed out. Did I know it? No. Should I have? Yes.

Teaching is challenging enough without having to discover foundational principles on one’s own. Looking back, I wish I’d had some systematic training, though not having had it seems more typical. While some universities offer graduate students support through teaching centers, a few philosophy departments have designed philosophy-focused programs. Georgia State, for example, has led multi-semester teaching seminars for years. Western University’s teacher training has been helpfully detailed by Jacquart and Wright (here).

At USF’s philosophy department, we’ve created a one-semester course that brings uncontroversial findings of cognitive science to bear on course design, lesson planning, and classroom technique. Throughout, the goal is to provide clear, actionable ways to improve our teaching—it’s not a class in pedagogical theory. By the end of the semester, students generate their own syllabus, engage in multiple teaching observations, and hear from department faculty about their different approaches to teaching philosophy.

This pedagogy seminar is informed by the work of people such as Daniel Willingham, Doug Lemov, Barak Rosenshine, Daisy Christodoulou, and others. So, for instance, we learn that students are much more likely to remember what we teach them if our assessments and classroom activities consistently get them to recall information throughout the semester (i.e. “spaced, retrieval practice”). We talk about the “curse of knowledge,” namely, that experts struggle to see a subject from the novice’s point-of-view. This leads teachers to overwhelm students (i.e. put too much “cognitive load” on them), because they’ve failed to scaffold information in a way that enables novices to learn it effectively. We examine the implications of the science of learning for core classroom activities: questioning, discussion, lecture, and writing. And so on.

These insights have led me to change long-standing practices in my own teaching. For example, I assess and question my students constantly now, whereas I used to rely on the tried-but-not-so-true midterm/final/two papers approach that I had seen employed so often. Frequent assessment incentivizes students to retrieve information over the whole semester and relate it to other things they are learning, whereas my older approach encouraged cramming and forgetting.

My courses cover less material. I’m unmoved now by what used to feel like an imperative: “If I’m going to do justice to this subject, I have to teach this text by Anscombe (or Kant or Hume).” I can teach whatever I want, but if I don’t dedicate time to talking through examples, providing opportunities to apply novel concepts, and making explicit the connections among ideas, the students will learn much less than they could otherwise.

Newly sensitive to problems of cognitive load, I was also chagrined to realize that I didn’t really know whether I was overwhelming students with the vocabulary in texts by, say, Aristotle and J.L. Austin. If a student encounters six or seven unknown words on a page of text, it is very unlikely she will be able to think about the significance of the text, because she’s working too hard simply to comprehend it. So, for the first time, I checked how many words students didn’t know on sample pages of philosophical prose. That’s helped guide my text selection.

This is not revolutionary stuff. But it is important. And it is stuff I wish I’d known about early in my teaching career.

Teaching well is hard. Even as an experienced professor, I constantly fail in the classroom. Every novice teacher will struggle, but we make it worse when we ask them to cobble together basic elements of their practice without guidance. As a profession, we’ve let this situation go on for too long.

The post An Approach to Teacher Training in Philosophy Departments (guest post by Colin Heydt) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Universities Studying Slavery: Critical University Studies in Practice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/01/2019 - 5:37am in

By Vineeta Singh, Lemon Project Postdoctoral Fellow, Omohundro Institute, College of William & Mary.

This is the second in a series of talks from the MLA panel, "Race and Critical University Studies." The first was "Insurgent Genealogies."

In 2015, the University of Virginia’s “President’s Commission on Slavery and the University” established a multi-institution consortium of “Universities Studying Slavery,” (USS) to allow historians to collaborate on research and share best practices for attempts at reconciling institutional histories and institutional values.

In the last three years, the consortium has grown to include 38 universities in the U.S., Canada, and Britain. It is primarily an historical rather than literary or even interdisciplinary intellectual community.  It is located squarely in the South, where the institutional reluctance and incapacity to address the already hypervisible histories of slavery and white supremacy more broadly have molded a very different “crisis consensus” than at the University of California and similar schools. Because of these divergent evolutions, USS work gives Critical University Studies other ways of approaching the presentism, exceptionalism, and focus on amelioration that CUS work is frequently charged with. 

After finishing an Ethnic Studies dissertation studying the history of U.S. higher education as it reflects and intensifies the conditions of racial capitalism, I recently began a postdoctoral fellowship with The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation. This is the College of William & Mary’s initiative to study the university’s history with racial violence and to “rectify wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by William & Mary through action or inaction.” In learning with the Lemon team and other members of the USS Consortium, I have come to regard the practical and creative work of students, scholars, and activists working with such initiatives as a model for how to do a critical study of American higher education. The work is allowing us to address the color line as a central driving force in the history of U.S. higher education. It looks toward an immanent reconcilability of studies of race, racism, and racial capitalism in higher education with “critical studies about the casualization of academic labor, the privatization of the public university, and the uncertain future of U.S. higher education,” as Heather Steffen put it in the proposal for this panel.

The conflict between the study of CUS and of race might be boiled down to the hope, on the one hand, that the public research university is fundamentally a progressive good, whose expanding reach has or will index the growth of values consonant with social justice, potentially including the dismantling of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy etc.; and, on the other hand, the conviction that since the U.S. nation-state is a guarantor of white supremacist capitalism, its system of higher education, functions like all state apparatuses is a house where “only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”

In my research and in my work with the Lemon Project I have joined a generation of Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, and American Studies scholars and historians who are attempting to work through this disconnect. Like the first generation of identity knowledge workers who brought identity knowledges into some kind of institutional relationship with the academy, our labors represent a kind of reconciliation--not the end of an antagonism, but its continuation by other means. Creating new, uncomfortable, and generative proximites, this reconciliation work has less to do with the affective labor of creating friendly relations and more to do with the institutional work of creating a shared political community for the perpetrators andi targets of crimes against humanity. Or better yet, for knowledge producers, it is akin to the accounting practice of ensuring that two sets of records are in agreement.

In general, universities have tried to reckon with their racist pasts through enrollment, historical study, memorialization, and of course reconciliation. Among the most inspiring successes are enrollment initiatives tailored for black students.  For example, Rutgers and Georgetown are seeking to build recruitment relationships with descendant communities.  Rutgers University’s Scarlet and Black Project’s historical study puts anti-black and settler violences squarely in the center of university history rather than, as in the past, seeing them as appendages or amendments to a history of great white men and families. 

Some universities are also engaged in countercommemoration, in which they rename campus landmarks after the enslaved laborers who built them, or after black historical figures associated with campus space. This helps black students and other students of color see themselves not just as descendants of the disfranchised but as inheritors of radical traditions of resistance and study.

Notably, the Brown [University] Steering Committee was a direct result of a reparations debate. The same year Ruth Simmons became Brown’s president, conservative author David Horowitz published a full-page ad in student newspapers across the country including the Brown Daily Herald titled “Ten Ideas Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea—and Racist Too.” When the paper’s editors refused to print a retraction or relinquish the money the paper received for the ad (as student activists recommended), protestors “stole an entire day’s press run of the paper” (pages 58- 59). The steering committee’s final report notes that the “stolen” papers were actually returned, but also that the story of the “theft” appeared in newspapers across the country, casting the university as a poor defendant of “the free exchange of ideas” (ibid.) The following year, when a class-action lawsuit was brought against a cohort of private corporations built on profits from the slave trade, including FleetBoston bank, founded by the same family of brothers who endowed Brown University, and when think pieces like Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree’s New York Times essay warned institutions like Brown, Yale, and Harvard to brace for a series of similar suits, Brown’s president Simmons convened the steering committee, in their words,“not [to] determine whether or how Brown might pay monetary reparations, nor… to forge a consensus on the reparations question. Its object, rather, was ‘to provide factual information and critical perspectives to deepen understanding’ and enrich debate on an issue that had aroused great public passion but little constructive public dialogue.” 

The most visible of this work, however, is the focus on eliciting an official university apology—ostensibly, although evidently not always, as a prelude to a commitment to material investments; administratively, of course, the investment is in rehabilitating the image of the institution.

Although the USS consortium’s name implies a focus on the pre-1865 period, in practice its associated initiatives have used the hypervisibility of the slavery conversation to bring attention to racial formation, racial capitalism, and racialized violence more broadly.

The initiatives frequently cite Saidiya Hartman’s formulation of the afterlives of African chattel slavery to trigger a momentary removal of the veils of commodity fetishism and fiduciary responsibility, the justification used by, for instance, Jesuit priests selling 272 enslaved Americans to keep Georgetown University’s doors open in 1838.  They ask, as the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation at Georgetown does, how this historical “lack of moral imagination—the inability to see black human beings as deserving of equal dignity” persists in the present and in planning for the future.

By addressing the long history of the U.S. university as a crucial site in the creation and consolidation of American racial capitalism, such work overcomes the bias alleged to be at the heart of current CUS work. Partnering and collaborating with USS schools and scholars would help CUS practitioners do the same.

In doing so, Lemon-style initiatives also move against the tendency to treat the university as an exceptional site. The undergraduate class syllabi such initiatives inform connect the university’s slaveholding to its role in fomenting and maintaining Jim Crow segregation laws and norms off campus.

At William & Mary, student activists have further connected these conversations to the university’s ongoing use of prison labor. Their work underscores the continuity between African chattel slavery and contemporary mass incarceration and residential, educational, and occupational segregation, as well as workers’ rights and health inequity, as much on campus as off. In leveraging a crisis to create a coalition, such initiatives, mostly born of student, faculty, and community organizing, are another iteration of the kind of coalitional labor that has historically animated the fields of Ethnic Studies, Black Studies, Latinx, and Gender Studies. And they are a coalition that easily makes common cause with CUS’s wider concerns.

Amelioration, the desire to manage the effects of a crisis, rather than confronting its root causes, is important to the institutions sanctioning such initiatives. As they try to tidy up unsightly and embarrassing student protests into at least surveilable, if not exactly manageable initiatives, the frequent use of the appellation “project” (instead of center or institute) in their titles indexes an uneasy triangular relationship among an administration’s desire to be absolved of past wrongdoings, historians’ attempts to “narrow the range of permissible lies” an institution can tell about its own past, and the institution’s inability to reckon with the scale of the oppression in which it has been complicit (page 173).

Yet the persistence of the scholars tasked with these efforts of memory, repentance, reconciliation, healing, and redress, speaks to their personal and collective investments in making possible another university. They also provide an intellectual community for people like Professor Hilary Green, an historian working at the University of Alabama, who single-handedly researched, designed, and implemented an alternate campus tour highlighting the presence of enslaved laborers and craftsmen on campus. Green has personally given her Hallowed Grounds tour to over three thousand visitors and students, and last year, along with earning tenure, received funds to hire student workers to expand its reach.

Green’s work is, frankly, a personal inspiration, and a model of the kind of reconciliation I envision for students of CUS and racial capitalism: it begins with a confrontational practice that forces students and visitors to recognize the racial violence embedded in the campus landscape.  Rather than waiting for institutional or disciplinary approval, Green has been reconciling the institution’s accounts with local common senses about the predatory relationship between the academy and communities of color. She is now also able to use university resources to further her transformative work.

This is also a core tenet of the interdisciplinary identity knowledge formations: to refuse the positioning of racial violence as an aberration in the history of the United States or of capitalism, and to place it at the center of these narratives. One effect is that the narratives have to re-articulate their own objects.  Another is that the rest of the campus so-called community builds “racial stamina”—the capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue about systemic racism.

In situating racial violence as a constitutive element of institutional histories, such projects keep the campus in a generative state of crisis.  This creates the possibility to answer the call for imaginative scholarly coalitional work..  I’m thinking in particular of Roderick Ferguson’s The Reorder of Things, which shifts our focus away from grand revolutionary narratives (or even the heroic model of grant-writing templates) and towards “the small things” that can enact critical forms of community—forms that make minoritized subjects agents rather than silent objects of knowledge.

An Online Trove of Ethics Case Studies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/01/2019 - 4:09pm in

The Media Ethics Initiative at the University of Texas, Austin “exists to promote and publicize research on the ethical choices involved in media use.” One of the ways it has done this is by creating a large, varied and free online collection of ethics case studies.

The initiative’s founder and director, Scott R. Stroud, says  “I think many of those teaching philosophy and ethics classes could find a use for these interesting case studies.” The case studies in the collection are not limited to matters of media ethics.  Stroud adds, “I’ve even used some in my aesthetics courses outside of communication, so they’re not limited to media-specific courses.”

There are several cases in each categories (some cases fall into multiple categories), and the categories include subjects such as Free Speech, Aesthetics, Art, and Ethics, Digital Ethics, Health Communication Ethics, Sports Media, Advertising, and others.

Each case study describes the issue and is accompanied by discussion questions and suggestions for further reading. You can access them all here and learn of new additions to the collection by following the Media Ethics Initiative on Twitter or Facebook.

The post An Online Trove of Ethics Case Studies appeared first on Daily Nous.