Since ceasing my employment with The University of X a few months ago, I have been looking for a new job. I recently visited my undergraduate alma mater’s Career Services office (because they also help alumni) even though I was really worried about the idea.
The reason I was worried is probably not what you are thinking. You may not realize this, but the “Career Service” office is often not a “service.” For a moment, let’s forget that the college has a vested interest in having its potential donors be employed and making as much money as possible. There are other vested interests that many of you may not be aware of.
I’ll start with the big one. If you are enrolled in law, medicine, or another program that normally leads to careers in a specific field, the college needs you to choose that field for the institution’s sake. If too many law students choose to do something other than law, it can make the school look bad when rankings time comes around. (There are also a few industrious applicants who ask about this.) Some programs find a way around this in their promotional materials by telling people that “90% of our graduates are employed within 3 months of graduation.” What they fail to tell you is that half of those people are selling cosmetics door-to-door. I have a feeling that these graduates didn’t take on so much debt to end up selling cosmetics.
But back to rankings: if you consider going for a Ph.D., you need to understand a few things up front. Most importantly, a strong program will probably not accept you unless your application materials say “I want to become a professor.” Doctoral programs recruit new students based on the professor jobs its graduates receive. (And again be careful. Some programs will say that 90% of their graduates secure academic appointments after completing the degree. That number can include Visiting Assistant Professors who only stay at a college for a year or two. It can also include a large number of people who teach for less than what a Wal-Mart cashier makes. The key word to hunt for is “Tenure-Track.”) But if you are nearing the end of your program and decide that you want to do something else, you can often expect that Career Services will encourage you to pursue the career that typically flows from the degree you are pursuing, even if it is painfully obvious that you should be doing something else.
Moral of the story: Remember that your college has financial and reputational concerns of its own and Career Services exists to serve those, not you. This is why I love my undergraduate Career Services office so much. It’s in their interest to help me because so many people with graduate degrees forget about their undergrad colleges. In their eyes, I’m a donor in the making. And the undergraduate college’s academic programs don’t benefit at all if I choose one career path over another. Although it’s counterintuitive, and even though it really helped to also speak with a specialist who knows about the unique problems facing Ph.D.-holding job applicants, the undergrad institution’s office has been an excellent resource.
Things turn out better when Career Services’ goals match your goals.
I’ve been here a couple of weeks now and have been surprised by the response this blog has received so far. However, I’ve been even more surprised by how many people have clicked on my “About Me” page. It has been a lot of people…
And so I have decided to put out something fuller than the non-statement I had on the blog and I hope it will correct some of the misconceptions I’ve run into during my short time here.
The first thing you need to know about me is that I am under 45. (Therefore: not retired.) I left teaching mostly because I could not stand inflicting the things I describe on my students. Let there be no mistake about it: I write about things that are often required of college teachers if they want to keep their jobs. If you are put off by my regular mocking of students, please remember that I view students’ negative qualities as a direct result of the educational system they have been put through. I don’t hate them and I don’t blame them, but I worry that they will grow up to do the same things to their children as was done to them. I feel bad for them and I have come to see the consequences of what is happening to them.
The other detail you didn’t know about me is that I have been looking for a job for a few months now. The lack of skills among college graduates has appalled me; I wish I could post some of the grammatical atrocities I’ve seen in form letters and official correspondence from businesses. I’ve also had the opportunity to see that businesses recognize how little many college students are learning in school. And don’t get me started on the anti-intellectualism and stereotypes that make it nearly impossible for someone with a Ph.D. to find a job. Eventually, I’ll start posting thoughts on the challenges of looking for a job with a Ph.D. if unemployment lasts much longer.
But I am still thankful not to be teaching. I enjoyed teaching when the goal was to impart knowledge, but those days are long past. Although you could get a basic idea of academe’s problems from visiting the Chronicle of Higher Education, I blog here to reach people who would not know to look for this kind of information. As long as it does not last forever, unemployment is a small price to pay for what I was able to escape. Believe it or not, it’s less stressful.
In closing, please know that I intend to remain anonymous because I don’t want my former educational institution to be singled out unfairly. (Caveat: If you want to offer me a job, we may be able to work something out.) I’m not writing about one institution’s problems; I write about what happens at many institutions. And: I remain anonymous to protect my former students. I don’t publish anything about any individual student I taught, but quite a few of my former students could look at my blog and think I’m writing specifically about them. In turn, businesses could look at my blog and say that they won’t hire grads from Dr. Tafisk’s university.
And please tell me that you didn’t really think my name is Lou Tafisk (lutefisk). Something should have smelled fishy.
This post is being copied to my “About Me” page as the official replacement.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is the love child of Lynne Cheney and Joe Lieberman (although Lieberman no longer wants his name associated with the group). You might call them a conservative activist organization, although their primary goal of depoliticizing college curricula is something that people of all political persuasions can stand behind. They also do some unnecessary conservative stuff, but that’s a post for another day..
As part of their work, ACTA operates a website called What Will They Learn and it attempts to promote a strong core curriculum instead of the watered-down versions so many colleges offer. They list seven rating criteria and evaluate every college in the U.S. on whether they meet these ideals. The listings are free and easy to follow. Colleges that perform well sometimes advertise their success in their student recruitment materials.
In theory, this is a much needed service. In practice, ACTA obviously did not do sufficient research. To make my point, I would like to focus on two of their criteria: Composition and Foreign Language.
Composition: ACTA calls for a “college writing class focusing on grammar, style, clarity, and argument.” At first glance, this is not a problem. However, they’ve completely missed the boat on what English departments consider to be a good “argument.” If the folks at ACTA were to read a basic survey of literary theory, they’d learn that English departments often teach that logic is racist and a “good argument” is one that supports leftist political views. Plenty of English Composition programs assign their students essays that promote Leftist politics, use those essays as examples of effective style, and require students to write papers that mimic the readings’ political bent. And since the literary theory ACTA didn’t read also declares “correct grammar” to be an unjust application of power by the privileged majority, it’s easy to see how that part of the course could be allowed to fall by the wayside… especially if it interferes with students passing the course. Remember: if students don’t pass, they can’t pay the school more tuition dollars in future semesters. The last place I taught at had a composition curriculum like what I describe here; that college gets passing marks from ACTA for composition.
Foreign Language: They define an intermediate level of proficiency as three semesters of study. If I worked in college admissions and wanted ACTA’s seal of approval on my website, I could find an easy way around this. Normally, the textbook Destinos is used for Spanish 101 and 102. But: if my college gets creative, I can lobby to have the Spanish courses meet for 3 hours per week instead of four. That means that we can teach Destinos in Spanish 101, 102, and 201. It’s still the same content but now it’s 3 semesters and acceptable to ACTA. (Or: we can let the courses remain at 4 hours per week and cash in on the extra tuition dollars!) At least one college that receives a perfect score from ACTA uses the first-year textbook in 101, 102, 201, and 202; that school does not deserve recognition for its academics.
Moral of the Story: When looking at colleges, be sure to dig deeper. There’s always something you’re not being told.
If you’ve spent much time reading my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t use any pictures. Sure, I have the image in my header but that one’s not exactly designed to be an eye-catcher. There’s a reason for my spartan layout.
During my time in teaching, I noticed that student attention spans shrunk considerably. It became daunting for them too look at a page of text without a huge block of color to break it up. You can see this trend in popular newspapers and magazines as well. (If you’d like to read about this from someone who has done a little research on the topic, take a look through Mark Bauerlein’s blog entries over at the Chronicle of Higher Education. He blogs about this sometimes.) All too often, photography and pictures help dumb down the educational materials our students are given and it seems profoundly hypocritical to use those same tactics in a blog that is devoted to mocking what’s wrong in higher education and the effects these shortcomings have on graduates.
But I have to admit that I’m not completely opposed to photos or pictures in blogs. Sometimes, the photos or pictures are the main attraction and sometimes they help explain what the blogger has written. But in case you can’t live without your daily photo fix, I’d like to share a blog that has some really neat pictures:
I really do like those photos…