David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
By the Time You Read This . . .*

August 8, 2011:  By the Time You Read This . . .*

One couldn't be faulted for wondering about the state of higher education today by glancing at the front "page" of The Chronicle of Higher Education's website today.  Taken as a whole, the statement about higher education is one of scandal, death, and harsh economic truths.

At the top of the page, to the right, even before you begin to scroll down is the "job center" box, proclaiming that "the Chronicle's job database has 2,289 opportunities."  (The opportunities actually went up by 1 since I first began a draft of this blog.)  That's a lot of open positions, but looking at the rest of the headlines for August 8, 2011, you can't blame someone for choosing a more optimistic field.  Forget the old belief that it's dentists who are most depressed.

Start with the "In the U.S." column, where we learn the Dickinson University President has been fired over enrollment errors, the strongest statement possible about the pressure enrollment has placed on institutions once focused on intellectual pursuit. For further indications of economic realities, note the two stories next to each other in "The Ticker":  Morehouse College having to repay grant money and Kaplan seeing significant revenue decreases (a story not to be so openly celebrated by the not-for-profits who face futures of decreasing revenues also).

Another dismissal shows up elsewhere on this main page.  Also from "In The U.S.," a university professor has been suspended because of a clash with a dean.  Anyone working at any college or university knows these kinds of clashes occur daily, with the punishment falling on either side of the faculty/administration fence.  

What do studies tell us about the most traumatic of life events? Even worse than job loss is death, although that typically didn't mean our own death.  Apparently academia is killing us literally. We have a story about a documentary on suicide and workplace bullying, a serious topic that deserves much research and discussion, but still indicative of a negative undercurrent that permeates higher education itself.

Farther down "In the U.S." column is a story about student veterans and their contemplation of suicide.  Suicide gets additional press with the story in "The Ticker" about a professor who committed suicide in front of his students.  Higher up in "The Ticker" is a story about a student "tased" to death by University of Cincinnati police.  Mamas don't let your sons grow up to be academics.

What do you say we get away from the "news" for something more uplifting in the world of op-ed pieces. 

Oops. No luck there.  In "Open Access Crossroads" (the left column near the bottom), we have two pieces listed:  "What a Rogue Downloader's Arrest Means for Open Access" and "Hack is the Wrong Term for Current Hacking--er, improper use--scandals." If this is a crossroads, I'll take the one never traveled.

Directly above that section, in the "In Writing" box, we have two op-ed pieces that reveal a certain self-deprecation that has infiltrated academia.  "Shame in Academic Writing" and "The Joys of Being the Dumbest Person in the Room" both discuss the self-image of the academic, one apparently at the opposite end of what should be intellectual heights. Granted, many of these pieces have more tongue in the cheek than skin in the game, but overall they contribute to a bleak view of academia that is all over the page. Not helping is the advertisement for The Chronicle Review with the headline "Profs Stuck in Place."  Close to it is the headline for Manage Your Career, "It's Your Fault," about academics who are difficult to work with.  Sounds like we're back to the professor and the dean.  Mike Hartley, we know where you live.

For me, the ultimate sobering reality check with every day's issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education is the institutional advertising (and I know ads are something every website needs embrace).  The bottom half of the far right column contains pieces with "information provided by participating institution [or destination]." Every day these appear to change (although I will admit to not knowing how often institutions may cycle back to the home page).

It's the constant commercialization of the university experience that is most depressing to me, and I can't help thinking that these ads reveal a central truth linking many of these stories.

* . . . You Will Probably Have a New CHE Home Page with Similar Stories.