April 28, 2009

Cascade

My apologies to everyone to whom I owe work and to readers who would like extended blog entries on the future of higher education, today's NAEP trends report, teacher demographics, and so forth: I've been squeezed from too many directions to have much coherent to say, apart from about 60 minutes this weekend where several entries wrote themselves. Each little thing that takes my attention has consequences down the line on tasks, and the effect of the cascade is delayed work. Welcome to higher education in the 21st century, folks, and my apologies for the construction in the hallway. We really didn't plan for the leaky ceiling, but we'll clean up the place as soon as everything is done. Or close to done.

Cascade is also a good metaphor for the consequences of our economic and budget woes. I'm becoming aware of a subtle shift in the attitude of faculty in some departments at my university, something that began when the university gave layoff notices to several dozen staff and now has a consequence for faculty careers (more than lower staff support). I've found my own attitude on some things shifting in parallel ways, and through this I'm discovering the inside of a changing zeitgeist. It's an interesting experience, I have no idea how representative this is, and I wonder how many other historians are having this dualism of having their perspective shift and then think, "Oh, this is how social history works."  For a variety of reasons related to confidentiality and my role as a chapter president, I can't be any more specific, but I can give another example: a friend of mine who once visited Ellen Goodman to complain about a column Goodman had written in the Boston Globe that had been critical of welfare recipients. After complaining, my friend heard Gooman reply something like the following: "That's well and good, but you have to understand that the majority of women now work, they go to work when their children are young, they manage the tensions that involves, and as a result they are less tolerant of other mothers who aren't making the same effort." Zing. That statement doesn't wipe out the points that a number of academics have written about welfare politics, but it captures one of the knock-on effects of growing female labor-force participation.

So while I have some other things to say about Mark Taylor and the future of the universities, I'm still in the midst of things that are more subtle and I think more transformative than Taylor's tendentious critique of higher ed.

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Posted in The academic life on April 28, 2009 11:29 PM |