Your Higher-Ed Industry at Work

Sorry we haven’t written for a few days; we’re both deep in the weeds of essay grading. Anyone who has taught writing knows that grading student papers is a lot of work, and it’s work mostly done by people without much job security. Yes, tenured English professors grade papers for their seminars about the globality of the phallus in late-Renaissance unpublished proto-feminist poetry, but sadly many of them aren’t marking these essays to help their students actually learn to write; they’re simply looking to see if they have some “brilliant” young mind that they can mold in their own image, sending the poor soul to grad school and the series of professional and personal failures that usually come along with it.

If the writing analysis in these kinds of hilarious English courses is bad, the teaching is often worse. Now, I had some amazing teachers at all of the institutions I attended. However, tenure-track folks are often evaluated on just about everything other than the thing most undergraduates assume they are paid to do. Worthless conference presentations and articles no one will read count more than designing courses that will help students succeed outside of the course itself. I think that most English professors would like to teach well (and some are great at it), but the tenure system really doesn’t incentivize it.

The Place Beneath is a documentary that examines the fate of a guy who was a teacher before anything else. He wasn’t a writing teacher, but his teaching was designed to help students live better lives both at and after the university. What a concept! And what was his reward for this? Getting his health insurance dropped when the school he’d worked at for years decided to hire someone else to be a traditional research professor. And then he got cancer and died, but only after going broke. This is obviously a pretty extreme example, but it highlights something we’d all be wise to remember: as much as higher ed tries to set itself apart as a noble world of inquiry and virtue, it’s mostly a business with a very bizarre set of operating procedures.

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